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While driving on a highway on Dec. 18, the driver got a tire pressure warning indicating a flat tire, and had the car towed to the nearby Los Gatos Tire and Auto Repair, Santa Clara County Fire Captain Bill Murphy told ABC News.
"I go in there, doing the paperwork and I start hearing a funny hissing sound," the Tesla owner told ABC San Francisco's station KGO-TV. "I thought, oh, it must be something going on in the shop next door."
The owner turned around to see the car on fire, and firefighters were called to the scene.
Los Gatos Tire and Auto Repair did not immediately respond to ABC News' for a request for comment.
“We extinguished the initial fire very quickly,” Murphy said. Shortly afterwards, the firefighters saw gas and steam coming off the car- which began venting gas, which Murphy said they believed was a sign of batteries burning. He said his crew again doused the car with water before flames could erupt and contacted Tesla, which recommended propping up the car to access its underbody where the battery is located, Murphy said. They continued to monitor the car for about 6 hours to ensure there was no lingering heat, Murphy added. His crew doused it with an estimated 2,000 gallons of water.
At 10 p.m., the car was moved to nearby tow yard, where it then reignited, Murphy said. The third fire was contained to the car, and did not spread. Firefighters spent nearly ten hours at the scene to ensure the battery would not ignite again.
The Tesla owner told ABC San Francisco station KGO-TV that he purchased the car about three months ago, and had driven it about 1,200 miles. He added that it would be the last Tesla his family owned.
"If this car had been in the house, and we had been on vacation, when this thing caught fire, the whole house could go under," he said.
Some automobile experts say that the public is still learning that electric cars can catch fire, just like traditional cars.
“People tend to look at electric vehicles and assume they won’t catch fire because they don’t have a traditional combustion engine," Alistair Weaver, editor-in-chief of Edmunds, an automobile research company, told ABC News. "The reality is that they still can still catch on fire.”
"Certainly if I was a Tesla driver I don’t think this is a source of panic," Weaver added, who himself drives a BMW electric car. In fact, electric cars are less likely to ignite than gas-powered vehicles, he said, but when they do they can require more time and more water to put out.
In a statement to ABC News, Tesla said “We currently investigating the matter and are in touch with local first responders. We are glad to hear that everyone is safe.”
Santa Clara Fire Department Captain Murphy said that firefighters are adjusting to responding to fire incidents that are different than what they have been accustomed to.
“The presence of large lithium ion batteries in vehicles is something we are encountering more often,” Murphy said. “It’s still categorized as vehicle fire. We just have a different fuel now. There is some additional complexity to the fuel that’s burning.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a new headline to better reflect the story.