It is believed that metal debris on the freeway pierced the battery and caused the fire

A Washington driver of Tesla Motors' electric Model S experienced a fire this week that is reportedly battery-related.

According to The Detroit News, the driver -- who remains unnamed for now -- was traveling in his Model S southbound on state Route 167 through the Seattle suburb of Kent Tuesday when he hit a piece of metal debris on the freeway. He then exited the freeway, and the car became disabled right before he smelled something burning.

The driver called the police, and firefighters arrived in 3 minutes. They had a hard time putting the fire out, as water seemed to reignite the flames. But once the front end of the vehicle was dismantled and a circular saw was used to cut an access hole in the front section, water was poured through punctured holes in the battery pack. After that, the fire was out. 

Tesla spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean said the fire was caused by a large metallic object hitting one of the battery pack’s modules, but that the fire was contained to a small section at the front of the vehicle and no one got hurt.

“This was not a spontaneous event,” Jarvis-Shean said. “Every indication we have at this point is that the fire was a result of the collision and the damage sustained through that.”

However, Trooper Chris Webb of the Washington State Patrol said there was too much damage from the fire to see what part the debris played in this. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would normally make the trip to investigate the fire, but the partial government shutdown has suspended such activity for now. 

What is clear, though, is that the fire started in the battery -- and this will likely open Pandora's box, as lithium battery fire remain a huge topic of concern when it comes to electric vehicles and planes. 

Back in 2011, three separate Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid cars caught fire during NHTSA testing. Officials believed the fires were caused by coolant leaking from damaged plastic casing around the batteries after the side-impact crashes during testing. 

Earlier this year, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner jets had a series of fires as well, where some were related to their lithium ion batteries. The jets received a new battery system, which included a casing that would contain a fire to one area (similar to what Tesla touted about Tuesday's fire -- the fact that it was contained to the front) and the jets hit the skies again four months later. 

Back in April of this year, a panel of experts met at a forum sponsored by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board in an attempt to solve the problem regarding lithium ion battery fires in both autos and planes. The result was that there's no sure method of protecting a battery from its own internal problems. 

Likely in response to the fire, Tesla's shares dropped $12.05 to $180.95 Wednesday. The stock is once again taking a hit today, currently trading at $170. The 52-week high was $194.50. 

Tesla and its Model S have been in the spotlight a lot this year after the company successfully paid off its government loans nine years early, pulled a profit, unveiled new tech for its electric car and the Model S even snagged the highest safety rating from the NHTSA. But it's unclear if this hiccup will further heighten the fear surrounding lithium ion batteries for cars and take a toll on Model S sales. 

Source: The Detroit News

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