UPDATE: Tesla Spokesperson: Model S “Absolutely Was Not” the Cause of a Garage Fire in California


On November 15, a fire occurred in a residential garage on the campus of the University of California-Irvine.

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

The fire damaged the garage, its contents and a Tesla Model S.  Fortunately, no persons were injured.

While the exact cause of the fire remains unknown, Tesla spokesperson Liz Jarvis-Shean says definitively that the Tesla Model S was not the cause of the fire:

“We looked into the incident.  We can say it absolutely was not the car, the battery or the charging electronics.”

“The cable was fine on the vehicle side. All the damage was on the wall side.

“A review of the car’s logs showed that the battery had been charging normally, and there were no fluctuations in temperature or malfunctions within the battery or the charge electronics.”

However, the responding fire department thinks the Model S may have caused the fire.

As Reuters reports:

While Tesla Motors Inc maintains that the fire was not related to the car or its charging system, the Orange County Fire Authority said the Tesla-supplied charging system or the connection at the electricity panel on the wall of the garage of a single-family home could have caused the fire.”

Notice how Reuters makes use of the word could. 

Reuters adds that a report from the fire authority states:

“The fire occurred as a result of an electrical failure in the charging system for an electric vehicle.”

“The most probable cause of this fire is a high resistance connection at the wall socket or the Universal Mobile Connector from the Tesla charging system.”

Reuters then flips back to uncertainty, stating “The report also emphasizes that the cause of the fire is unclear.”

The Model S was overnight charging in the residential garage on the night of November 14.  The fire was noticed by the owner at approximately 3 am.  The owner called the fire department.  Fire crews arrive almost immediately and quickly extinguished the fire.

UPDATE: Official Tesla statement (via Jalopnik) added below:

There was a fire at the wall socket where the Model S was plugged in, but the car itself was not part of the fire. The cable was fine on the vehicle side; the damage was on the wall side. Our inspection of the car and the battery made clear that neither were the source and were in fact functioning normally after the incident. In addition, a review of the car’s logs showed that the battery had been charging normally, and there were no fluctuations in temperature or malfunctions within the battery or the charge electronics.

All of the above information was provided to the journalists and editors at Reuters responsible for the article. It is therefore disappointing that they would choose to publish as “news” a misleading article about an event that occurred more than a month ago that was not caused by the car and that was already covered by the Orange County Register. It appears that their objective was simply to find some way to put the words “fire” and “Tesla” in the same headline. The journalists and editors who created the story have patently ignored hundreds of deaths and thousands of serious injuries unequivocally caused by gasoline car fires, instead choosing to write about a garage fire where there were no injuries and the cause was clearly not the car.

This latest update seems to confirm what we believed to be the case.  The Reuters report was, at best, questionable.

Source: Reuters

Categories: Tesla

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

39 Comments on "UPDATE: Tesla Spokesperson: Model S “Absolutely Was Not” the Cause of a Garage Fire in California"

newest oldest most voted

Reuters also carried the Volt stories, dividing total R&D costs by the first 10k, or 20k, of sales. It was one thing for Fox and others to make the critical mistake, but a business service like Reuters doing it, and then pumping it out to all kinds of outlets? Foul stench.

Notice how Tesla didn’t say ‘Tesla supplied High Power Wall Connector absolutely was not the cause of the fire’ ?

The Fire Department clearly reported the fire was on the chargepoint side of things, so Tesla talking about the car itself is not relevant.

That is true. It could be the charger. I don’t know if Tesla gathers stats from their chargers (like some Internet-connected chargers can).

Given that Tesla reported that the car was charging normally, that means that it’s not likely their charger or the car. Interesting that Tesla gathers information about the car even while charging. Then again, maybe not so interesting: They can pre-emptively tell if a car’s battery is failing that way.

Once again, this is a non-story that just happened to have a Model S involved. There are over 200,000 house fires every year. One this week in the greater Ft. Worth area leveled the house — literally. Cause? Likely a leaky propane line that filled the house with gas and found an ignition source.

It is EXTREMELY relevant, as the car has been the subject and target of multiple accusations of being unsafe.

Here they are saying the usual suspect is not guilty.

They would most certainly rather their connector to be faulty as it would represent a much smaller financial, safetly and image problem.

“Once again, this is a non-story that just happened to have a Model S involved.”

Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

Not true, That Tesla 14-50P gets very hot in normal operation. That heat would contribute to a fire starting, or if the heat wasn’t there, then there would have been less chance below. Several intelligent comments by several bloggers below.

“The fire was at the wall socket, where the Tesla was plugged in”

Where in that statement do you see a problem with the adapter? This likely means the home wiring was insufficient. It was probably 12 gauge for too long a run, or dare somebody use regular 15amp, 120v line, at 14 or thinner gauge.

If the connector is the problem, it quickly comes down to demonstrating the pin and wire sizes are insufficient, for ~40 amps. Since Chevy delivered the 2013 Volts with a stepped down 8 amp (120v) default, it is apparent that the car manufacturers are doing folks with sub-standard home-wiring a favor.

Plug contact is always the “weak link”…

I disagree. The Blink L2 problems were due to bad crimps, for example. http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?p=247736#p247736

Pjwood, That quote wasn’t from me but its an accurate statement. Tesla’s response is pure legalese.

No, the Model S or anything physically in its containment (charger, batteries, wires) didn’t cause the fire. Who cares.

The UMC that you have to use to charge the car (the basic standard way to charge the car at 40 amps) is the recommended way to charge the car at 40 amps. The car end of course didn’t catch fire since it has to be beefy enough to handle a supercharger (hundreds of amps)

Others have said the plug occassionally MELTS. This transfers undue heat to the wall plug and wiring. So , no the Tesla car didn’t start the fire. NOTED. However you can’t say the same thing for the other Tesla product included with the car , the UMC assembly, which includes the 14-50p.

Re: the volt, it far removes GM from any liabiltity, and yes, the absolute worst wired house can safely charge it. To reiterate, the initial battery and charging scheme were safe enough, but just to be doubly sure they are *NEVER* sued, the current scheme is Iron-Plated-Safe.

Your statement about 14 or 12 gauge wire goes nowhere. The problem is with the 14-50p not the 14-15p.
The smallest wire legally allowed is #8 cu or #6 aluminum. This is in relation to the Tesla Fire.

I mentioned 14 gauge wire (an improvement over the original 16 gauge) in the volt as a comparison to the way 2 companies handle a problem. The #16 has nothing to do with the Model S, its merely the way GM handled a similar issue.

er: 5-15p (not 14-15p).

Incidentally, this response from Tesla indicates to me that they realize they have a problem.. They are talking about all parts of the car and UMC remaining cool EXCEPT the very part that the fire dept is concerned about.

This is a dangerous game, the homeowner may have a smart lawyer who can also see what is going on.

Its rather like saying the part of a long match you hold in your hand can’t catch fire to anything since the end that you held remained cool! This is an insult to intelligence.

I bet you $100 they were using a 120V outlet to charge their Tesla. The outlet was probably the original one that came with the house in 1910 or whenever it was built and it was old and worn out. This has got to be a wake-up call to anyone still charging at 120V, not only is it slow and inefficient, but potentially dangerous.

It’s unlikely anyone with the $$ to buy a Tesla would not have installed a Tesla Charger.

120v receptacle would take days to charge a Model S.

“The most probable cause of this fire is a high resistance connection at the wall socket or the Universal Mobile Connector from the Tesla charging system” which was plugged into a 240-volt wall socket, the report said.

Or, Both! The fact remains that this chinsy 14-50p supplied with the car is contributory toward the cause.

You have ZERO facts to back up that claim. “I have seen some get warm” is not a fact.



I’m just stating in my professional opinion, that I don’t like it when I see things get hot that shouldn’t.

What I think , or my zero facts, does not matter. What matters is what an insurance adjuster thinks, and believe me, those guys are with me on my side of the table on this discussion. They absolutely do not like seeing overheated attachment plugs, or things that are ‘tending to overheat’.

Not true. Since the car comes with a 40 amp portable EVSE, many just use that with a wall mounted NEMA 14-50.

I HAVE noticed that 14-50p get very hot in the Toronto Service Center, while waiting for yearly maintenance to be done on my Roadster.

Too bad Reuters doesn’t have someone like me doing some of their reporting for them.

The first thing I would have checked is, did the wall – outlet have aluminum wire attached to it, and if so, was it properly installed (i.e. shined and greased, and proper number of inch-pounds torque on the screws, as well as checking for minimum wire size).

One thing’s for sure: the mainstream auto pundits have now received their Christmas present 😉

It’s interesting to see how advanced self monitoring electronics are running up against the conventional human deduction/guess work.

This sounds more like a bad wiring issue with the home.

I’m skeptical about your point of the home wiring being bad. Not being there, I of course can’t say for sure without looking at it, but I did see a quite hot 14-50p charging in a Tesla service bay. You wouldn’t say that Canadians can’t wire an outlet would you?

Bill Howland:
The fire professionals who inspected it said it was most likely a high resistance connection in the household wiring which connected to the EVSE. The source of ignition which spread to some cardboard boxes.

There is no plug on the wall. Get over it.

The EVSE was wired directly to the existing loom which on hindsight should of been replaced at the time.

And Smith. I’ve been watching you. Still butt hurting over shorting TSLA?

Unfortunately for Tesla, the UMC has been known to melt at the plug adapter, though no fires have resulted yet (until perhaps now). Apparently the adapters that let the UMC plug into multiple outlets (for example Tesla includes adapters for 5-15 and 14-50 outlets, but also sells adapters for 10-30, 14-30 and 5-20 outlets) can end up not fitting quite right and melt. Tesla has proactively replaced a number of UMCs due to this issue. If you search teslamotorsclub.com for UMC and melt you find a number of threads. Here is 3 different instances dating from March 2013 to end of October 2013: http://www.teslamotorsclub.com/showthread.php/15304-Plug-Adapter-on-my-Universal-Mobile-Connector-has-melted http://www.teslamotorsclub.com/showthread.php/18092-Schmelted-UMC-NEMA-14-50 http://www.teslamotorsclub.com/showthread.php/23212-Scary-issue-with-Nema-14-50-adapter-melting If you look at the design of the adapter, it’s clear that the quality of the connector PINs is not up to the same standards as the car connector. Due to the use of an adapter, it also exerts extra pressure on the adapter fitting and plug as well due to the extra length. IMO, encouraging customers to use a mobile connector regularly is asking for trouble simply due to wear and tear. Tesla should include a HPWC with each car and encourage customers to only use the UMC for actual mobile charging –… Read more »

Tesla could easily provide ‘beefier’ products – this house fire seems to me to be the combination of a ‘marginal’ wall outlet which would get hot all on its own at 40 amps, plus the added (in my mind totally unnecessary) heat of the Tesla 14-50p adapter. Tesla seems to like to run these things ‘hot’ to get their money’s worth.

The only product I know they’ve changed for the S has been the J1772 adapter, since the original one would shrink when it is cold outside and couldn’t be used.

I also wanted to hypothetically purchase an S with just a J1772 adapter, and get a deducted $500 for the UMC since I didn’t want it, since it appeared to these eyes to be somewhat chinsy. Too bad they force you to buy that substandard product, in my opinion.

-agree with you, there. EVSE’s should be consumer selected. Actually, even the J1772 is better left to the consumer. Its a tough call. The popular Leviton plugs are only rated for 30 amps, and you can see some DIY using one for a 40a Tesla draw. Yup, that fire will someday make the news too.

The standard configuration (zero cost option) with a model S is a Nema 14-50p, and a 5-15p. That’s it. There is also a 3rd J1772 adapter not at all part of the UMC supplied with the car.

The wall plug supplied by the consumer for this standard configuration can only be rated 50 amps. They do not make 30 amp models of a Nema 14-50.

A friend is on his third Universal Mobile Connector at his house, burning out the first two (these are for the Roadster).

When in the Toronto Service Center I felt the attachment plug (Nema 14-50p) for the S UMC and it felt to me very hot.

Only problem with heat and Tesla I’ve experienced is due to a poorly designed Schneider EVLink, which I’ve since redesigned to prevent the over heating (no fault of Tesla’s in this case).

Apparently only GM has proactively been concerned about customer’s charging, since they lowered the default charging current to 8 amps on 120 volts and 14-16 amps on 200-240.

Sounds like Reuters pulled a full Broder on this story.

Full Broder indeed: Tesla issues a very carefully crafted statement that attacks the other party but (apparently purposely) avoids answering the key issue.

Then it was, did the car run out of power. Tesla instead stated that the battery was never fully discharged. Pointless, as obviously the vehicle would shut down before this happens.
(The data logs exhibited as proof by Tesla actually show that the car traveled some distance after it reached 0 mile of range left).

Now it is, did Tesla hardware (and in particular, the UMC) cause or contribute to the fire. Tesla claims that the Model S wasn’t involved, that damage was “on the wall side”.
I think I agree with Bill Howland and Dave R here; see their insightful comments above, and in particular http://insideevs.com/tesla-spokesperson-model-s-absolutely-was-not-the-cause-of-a-garage-fire-in-california/#comment-246713

“Full Broder indeed: Tesla issues a very carefully crafted statement that attacks the other party but (apparently purposely) avoids answering the key issue.”

This is the kind of troubling response the company typically delivers.

The fire department’s investigation states the fire started at either the Tesla supplied UMC or the plug, yet Tesla only addresses the car and ignores the UMC.

I bet I can predict the future: If it is adjudicated that the fire started with the UMC, then Tesla will say the OPERATOR did not fully snap the 14-50p adapter in place properly, so that even though Tesla Equipment started the fire it was ultimately due to Operator Error, and the homeowner is liable, not Tesla!!!

Well Bill, the plug could be made with #2 wire, but if its not plugged into the socket properly, its still going to create a high resistance connection that would get warm, so that would be correct.

The plug could be made of #2 wire, but that is talking about a different scenario. The point is, it is not. Its not too big of an assumption to make that the car was properly plugged in, since the fire dept made no mention of a partially inserted plug. On a personal note Omar, why do you seem to jump up and down at every comment I make? I mean, I don’t feel my opinion is that unreasonable… Shouldn’t a product included with the standard P85 S (over $100,000) be just a little heavier duty in general? And as I’ve said before on the comment 10 blogs above, it doesn’t matter in the final analysis what I think. But believe me, Insurance Adjusters *DO NOT* like to see equipment that appears very marginal, or on the verge of barely working, or tending to overheat, especially where attachment plugs are involved and the working power levels are 8,000 to 10,000 watts.. I’m usually quite lenient when it comes to this sort of thing and I will deam something safe that homeowners have a misplaced concern about, but on these things they give me a bad feeling. See my comment below… Read more »

Update: Tesla has released a software update to increase charging safety. If the car notices fluctuations in the incoming power supply, it automatically drops the charging amperage by 25%.

Yeah Omar, but all that does is make installations that have very long runs with large pressure (voltage) drops safer. A proper installation with relatively large voltage drop is no more dangerous or safer than one with no voltage drop. The voltage will drop when the car goes to charge, and then it will revert to 30 amps, making charging safer, which could be done on other cars (making them safer) at any time. I know the purpose of the software change is to hopefully detect a connection getting worse. This might work some of the time, but it is rather like Tesla’s fix of the model S battery to have “Tesla Air Suspension – Now with more Air!”. Installations with very short runs from a very stout feeder remain unprotected, since a drop at the outlet/attachment plug can still generate alot of localized heat without tripping the point in the software to reduce the current to 30 amps. To me its a bit nonsensical, although granted it may catch a minority of bad connection problems. I think it is more likely that whenever something else in the house kicks on, the Tesla will go down to 30 amps. One… Read more »

The Tesla software update is just a Band-Aid. There still is an underlying issue of bad Tesla hardware/electrical connections.

The Tesla charger connections are part of the Tesla. The Tesla charger connections are the likely source and or a causal factor in the fire. Many Tesla connections have a history of over heating, and melting. A firefighter was injured responding to this Tesla related fire. Allegedly another Tesla owner was burned on the hand and arm disconnecting the overheating connections.

The way Tesla has designed its charge connectors, is likely to put undue stress and possibly cause wall outlets to fail. Their adapter acts as a lever to increase the force on an outlet, so someone pulling on the cord, the weight of the module, and anyone tripping or tugging on the cord, the force is multiplied. The typical configuration as many connections close together which concentrates the heat and increases the odds of a bad connection and increases the odds of a fire. Greedy people are covering Tesla safety problems.