At least two Tesla vehicles — one in Pinellas Park and another in Palm Harbor — ignited after being contaminated by saltwater from storm surge, according to ABC’s Tampa Bay affiliate.
Palm Harbor Fire Rescue posted to Facebook about one of the incidents, warning that exposure to saltwater “can trigger combustion in lithium-ion batteries.”
Electric vehicle owners were advised to move any car that came into recent contact with saltwater to immediately relocate the vehicle, specifically if it was parked in a garage.
The list of potentially affected vehicles includes golf carts and electric scooters.
“Salt particles get into the battery and other electrical components and they act as a conductor, leading to a short circuit and eventually a fire. And the risk of ignition lasts for weeks after a storm,” The Weather Channel’s Danielle Banks said in an explainer video.
The battery packs are “encased in metal and hard to get to at the bottom of the cars,” Banks added. “The fire sometimes takes tens of thousands of gallons of water and hours of firefighting to extinguish and even then may reignite days later.”
Tesla has a guidance page for owners whose vehicle has become submerged due to flooding or other extreme weather conditions on its website.
Drivers are encouraged to treat their vehicle “as if it has been in an accident and contact your insurance company,” not to attempt to operate the vehicle without an inspection from an authorized shop, and to get the vehicle towed or otherwise moved at least 50 feet away from structures or “other combustible materials such as other cars and personal property.”
Hurricane Idalia made landfall over Florida’s Gulf Coast near Keaton Beach on Wednesday, bringing with it strong winds, heavy rains, and storm surge. It has since swept across Florida and neighboring states and dissipated over the Atlantic Ocean.
Authorities pushed drivers to move their electric vehicles to higher ground when the storm approached as a precaution.
Other hurricanes are known to have caused electric vehicles to catch fire in the past, which led some officials and policymakers to question whether auto-makers are doing enough to develop safety protocols amid the Biden administration’s push for a transition away from gasoline-burning vehicles.
USA Today reported that 21 electric vehicles are known to have burned in connection to flooding from Hurricane Ian in Florida and the Carolinas last year out of an estimated 358,000 damaged vehicles.