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Tesla Crash Shows What Firefighters Deal With When a Battery Pack Catches Fire

Tesla fire

A severe head-on crash in Indianapolis last night claimed the lives of two people — but because it’s a Tesla, the story made national news.

According to the Indianapolis Star, the Model S impacted a tree, throwing debris 150 yards and starting a fire that consumed the vehicle. This isn’t a story about whether the vehicle or its electronic systems may have caused the crash — police made it clear that speed was a factor.

Rather, the aftermath of this crash shows what firefighters face when the lithium-ion battery pack in an electric car catches fire.

The crash took place near the city’s downtown, on a street that raises no suspicions of potential Autopilot use. Deceased are 27-year-old Casey Speckman and 44-year-old Kevin McCarthy.

“The impact of the crash disintegrated the car leaving a debris field over 150 yards long,” Indianapolis Fire Department Battalion Chief Rita Reith said in a media release. “Firefighters arrived and had to contend with the car fire and multiple fires in the road left by the small batteries and magnesium strewn about.”

Model S vehicles built since early 2014 contain a titanium underbody shield designed to further protect the potentially volatile battery from damage. However, there’s only so much an automaker can do to protect components during a high-speed impact.

Warnings printed on lithium-ion batteries found in household appliances and devices exist for a reason. The lithium used in the battery reacts when exposed to air, and the electrolyte is flammable. A puncture, or exposure to heat, makes for a dangerous situation.

“There’s a lot of volatility in those batteries when they’re exposed unnecessarily,” Reid told NBC affiliate WTHR. “They are pretty well-contained until they get into something like this where the impact literally made the car just completely blow apart.”

Firefighters smothered the flames with dry powder and water to reach the occupants.

[Image capture: RTV6]

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