Tesla Fires After Hurricane Raise Alarm for Florida Officials

  • Auto safety agency tracks Tesla fires in Florida after storm
  • Senator asks Buttigieg, automakers about recalls, guidance

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A Florida senator is calling for action from the Transportation Department and automakers after a series of electric vehicle fires tied to Hurricane Ian.

The storm caused flooding and destruction across the state, and fire officials say they are still seeing its impact with EV batteries catching fire after saltwater damage. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is aware of multiple fires in Tesla Inc. vehicles, the agency said in a letter sent Friday to a Florida official and obtained by Bloomberg Government.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) raised concerns about the fires to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and EV makers — including Tesla, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., and Stellantis NV — in letters sent Thursday, asking for guidance and whether any recalls are being considered.

“This emerging threat has forced local fire departments to divert resources away from hurricane recovery to control and contain these dangerous fires,” Scott said. “Car fires from electric vehicles have proven to be extremely dangerous and last for a prolonged period, taking in many cases up to six hours to burn out.”

The fires could represent a new area of concern as the Biden administration seeks to rapidly expand electric vehicle use across the country. The administration is aiming to have 50% of all new cars sold in the US be electric by 2030.

Scott joins Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer and state fire marshal, in drawing attention to the issue. Patronis said two houses burned down this week after an EV caught fire. He has asked manufacturers for help.

Patronis also wrote to NHTSA last week asking about the federal response and guidance. In its reply, NHTSA pointed to existing technical information and guidance available from the agency and from Tesla.

Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Lithium-ion vehicle battery fires have been observed both rapidly igniting and igniting several weeks after battery damage occurred,” Jack Danielson, executive director at NHTSA, wrote in the letter to Patronis.

Fires in EVs “pose unique challenges” for firefighters, NHTSA said in a separate statement to Bloomberg Government. The agency said it has been researching the effect of saltwater immersion on batteries when similar issues emerged with EVs after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

There are more than 95,000 electric vehicle registrations in Florida, the second-most state after California, according to the Energy Department.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Angela Greiling Keane at agreilingkeane@bloombergindustry.com

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