Shot from video of Tesla Model S on Fire

Shot from video of Tesla Model S on Fire Tuesday near Seattle.

In one example of how the U.S. government shutdown is affecting traffic safety, Will Oremus reports for Slate that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is not able to investigate what caused a fire in a Tesla Model S on Tuesday in Seattle area. Tesla spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean said the fire started when a large metal object in the road hit one of the car’s battery pack modules, Mark Memmott writes for NPR, as the driver drove on State Route 167 in the Seattle suburb of Kent, at around 8 a.m., according to Patrick George writing for Jalopnik, and the Associated Press in an article appearing on Huff Post Green.

The Tesla spokeswoman said the fire was contained to a small section at the front of the car, and no one was hurt, AP reports. AP goes on to write about concerns with lithium-ion batteries over the years:

The liquid-cooled 85 kilowatt-hour battery in the Tesla Model S is mounted below the passenger compartment floor and uses lithium-ion chemistry similar to the batteries in laptop computers and mobile phones. Investors and companies have been particularly sensitive to the batteries’ fire risks, especially given issues in recent years involving the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid car and Boeing’s new 787 plane.

Since the Tesla fire, Tesla Motors’ stock share prices have crashed and burned, news reports say. NPR notes that just before noon on Thursday, a share of Tesla was trading at around $169.50, down about 6.5% for the day, and $25 (13%) below its 52-week high of $194.50.

Firefighters who arrived at the scene on Tuesday three minutes after being called, wrote in an incident report that they appeared to have the fire under control, but then the flames reignited, AP writes. The firemen wrote that water seemed to make the fire worse, so they switched to a dry chemical extinguisher, AP writes. The responders used a circular saw to cut a hole in the battery pack’s front section to apply water, and only then were they able to extinguish the fire, AP writes. The firemen remained on the scene for 2.5 hours, AP writes.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Chris Webb told AP that there was too much damage from the fire to see what damage the debris might have caused. As AP writes (and as this blog has noted), the Model S, which costs around $70,000, has received rave reviews, including a top crash-test score from NHTSA and a tie for the highest rating ever recorded by Consumer Reports magazine. Last month we reported that Colorado was  getting its first Tesla supercharging station, in Summit County.

As AP writes:

Under normal circumstances, investigators from NHTSA, the government’s auto safety watchdog, would travel to Washington state to investigate the Tesla crash. But with the partial government shutdown, NHTSA’s field investigations have been suspended.

Here is a short video of the Tesla Model S on fire:

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