EV’s charred remains somehow didn’t break through

Currently, there’s the shell of Tesla Model X that burned to a crisp sitting on a frozen lake in Vermont. That’s a sentence I never imagined I’d write. The situation certainly is odd. It raises a lot of questions. What sparked the fire? Why didn’t it melt through the ice? What was the car doing on the lake in the first place?

Ice Fishing In A Tesla

Tesla Goes Ice Fishing, Burns Up, Doesn't Melt Ice
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Last week, a user posted a picture of the burnt-up vehicle on the Tesla Motors Club forum along with the story of how he discovered it. The user wrote that they noticed a bright light coming from the surface of Shelburne Bay on Lake Champlain, looked at it through a telescope and saw it was a burning vehicle. The poster called 911, while their two sons skied out to the scene to investigate. About 30 minutes later, firefighters arrived. They told the kids that the vehicle was a Tesla and that no one was inside of it. The poster walked across the ice to investigate the next day and confirmed that it was a Tesla Model X.

The Shelburne Police Department has said that the vehicle’s owner drove out onto the lake to go ice fishing. At some point, the car hit a rock and began making strange noises. It then caught fire.

How Did this Happen?

Tesla Goes Ice Fishing, Burns Up, Doesn't Melt Ice
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The exact cause of the fire remains uncertain. It may have been caused by damage to the car’s lithium-ion battery. If lithium-ion batteries are damaged, they may rapidly release their stored energy in the form of heat, often causing a fire. This has happened before with Teslas that have been in accidents. Electric vehicle news site Electrek noted that while there have been numerous stories of Teslas catching on fire, there is no data that shows Teslas are more likely to catch on fire than gas-powered vehicles.

Tesla Goes Ice Fishing, Burns Up, Doesn't Melt Ice
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This morning, I went out to the lake to investigate. I had hiked there the previous evening and saw what looked like half a car in the distance but didn’t realize what it was. I wanted to see if I could figure out just what happened. When the story first popped up, a number of people were saying it sure sounded like insurance fraud. Many people in the Shelburne area have specialized insurance just for their antique and luxury cars, so it wasn’t out of the question that somebody would try to cash in, especially if they thought their Tesla would sink to the bottom of a lake. However, I don’t buy it. That would still leave questions on how it caught fire, and why.

Tesla Goes Ice Fishing, Burns Up, Doesn't Melt Ice
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The Shelburne Police mentioned that it hit a rock, which damaged the battery. I believe this is closer to the truth, but not quite there. There aren’t a lot of rocks just hanging out on the ice in the middle of a lake. However, there are dozens of small concrete and metal poles that stick out six to 12 inches from the ice. These are very firmly frozen, and could do some major damage on the undercarriage of anything that drives over them. Some are obvious to see, but if you’re low to the ground and not looking for them, they’d be easy to miss. I can’t say officially, but the most likely option is that one of these is the culprit.

Don’t Break The Ice

Tesla Goes Ice Fishing, Burns Up, Doesn't Melt Ice
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So why didn’t the car melt through the ice and sink? News site Jalopnik explained that using some basic principles of thermodynamics. The focus of the heat that comes off a fire is directly above it, rather than below or beside it, the Jalopnik article says. Some ice surrounding the car likely did melt, but the heat radiation wasn’t enough to melt all the way through the thick ice.

Tesla Goes Ice Fishing, Burns Up, Doesn't Melt Ice
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What’s next for the scraps that are left? While many assumed that they’d be stuck there until spring, when I went out they already had a major chunk of it ripped apart and were working on the rest. The workers originally brought out propane tanks to heat up the edges, but found that using salt to melt the ice around it worked much better. The sounds of the ice cracking around them was a bit nerve-wracking, but they were making decent progress. A few pieces still might end up in the bay, but the majority of the car will end up in the junkyard.

The demographic for people who own a Tesla for ice fishing might be exactly one, so this seems like a once-in-a-lifetime story. Still, if you’re driving on a frozen lake, watch out for concrete poles. And in the rare event that your car goes up in flames… bring some marshmallows.

Scott Huntington is an automotive writer and blogger living in Vermont. Check out his site Off The Throttle or find him on Twitter, @SMHuntington.

Further Reading

2016 Tesla Model X High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the Tesla Model X.

Tesla Model S Crashes and Burns; Reportedly Non-Functioning Door Handles Fatally Trap the Driver Inside
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Tesla Model S Crashes And Burns; Reportedly Non-Functioning Door Handles Fatally Trap the Driver Inside

2017 Tesla Model S Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2018 Tesla Model S.

First Driving Impression: An Honest Take on the 2018 Tesla Model S Exterior
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First Driving Impression: An Honest Take on the 2018 Tesla Model S

Source: Off The Throttle

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