California Man ‘Lucky to Be Alive’ After Tesla Caught Fire on Highway

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
May 10, 2023US News
California Man ‘Lucky to Be Alive’ After Tesla Caught Fire on Highway
A tow truck taking away a burned Tesla after the electric vehicle caught fire on a California highway on May 6, 2023. (Courtesy of KCRA via CNN)

A man in California narrowly escaped a dangerous vehicle fire over the weekend, saying he is grateful to be alive after his electric vehicle (EV) suddenly caught fire while he was driving on a highway.

“It’s just like all gone. I’m just so lucky to be alive … and I’m so glad that my family was not there,” Bishal Malla told local TV station KCRA News.

Malla noted that he could not stop thinking about what might have happened if his family had been traveling together with him when the incident unfolded, pointing to the extra time it would take to get the children out of their safety seats.

“I’m just speechless right now,” Malla said. “There are two baby seats still over there. I have a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old,” he added.

Malla was driving back home to pick up his family on May 6 when his Tesla suddenly began to shake while he was running some errands. Concerned, he immediately pulled over and exited the car to check for a flat tire, but when he opened his door he “saw smoke coming from the bottom,” Malla told the network.

After noticing smoke billowing from underneath his car, Malla quickly called 911 and started to record the fire on his phone from a distance. In the video, the car is seen entirely engulfed in flames as a group of firefighters watch the car burn.

Cosumnes Fire Department Battalion Chief Robert Kasparian told the Sacramento TV station that current research indicates it is best to just let EVs burn if they should catch fire until the battery can be accessed.

“The issue with the electric vehicles is access to the batteries,” Kasparian said. “The batteries are what are causing the enormous amount of heat buildup.”

“A lot of times, fire departments will just let the vehicle burn until it’s down to the point where they can actually access the batteries and put water or firefighting foam on the batteries themselves,” he added.

Kasparian said the exact cause of the fire is currently unclear to fire officials.

EV Battery Fires

Battery-powered vehicles are notoriously difficult to deal with when they catch fire, while EVs catch fire less frequently than gas-powered cars, the use of lithium-ion batteries means the fires can burn for longer and be more intense.

Most EV fires, although rare, come after a car accident. There have been instances in which EV owners reported their cars spontaneously burst into flames while just parked outside, or even while charging.

As of May 10, there have been 182 Tesla vehicles that caught fire worldwide in the past decade, according to Tesla Fire, a website that records all Tesla fires reported by news articles or verified primary sources. Out of all these incidents, nearly 100 happened in the United States.

In another similar incident that happened this year in California, a Tesla Model S “spontaneously” burst into flames on Highway 50 while traveling at “freeway speeds,” the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District said on Twitter.

Firefighters called in two fire engines, a water tender, and a ladder truck, and used approximately 6,000 gallons of water to extinguish the blaze as the battery cells “continued to combust,” fire officials said. They also used car jacks to lift the vehicle in order to put out the fire underneath it.

Meanwhile, Tesla maintains that its EVs are the “safest cars in the world” on the safety report section of its website, citing data from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration.

Specifically, the company uses a metric called “miles driven per vehicle fire,” saying that for the period between 2012 to 2021, there has been about one Tesla vehicle fire for every 210 million miles traveled. By comparison, federal data suggests that there is a vehicle fire for every 19 million miles traveled.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on last week’s Tesla vehicle fire.

Bill Pan contributed to this report.