Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on February 26, 2024
Arson Suspected in SoMa after Two Teslas Erupt in Flames Over Weekend in San FranciscoStock Rendering

San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood was stunned over the weekend after two parked Teslas became fiery metal pyres, triggering an arson investigation. The first vehicle, reported by the San Francisco Fire Department, was ablaze near Bonifacio Street and Mabini Street just after midnight on Saturday with the fire reportedly escalating enough to singe a neighboring tree. The SF Fire spokesperson Lt. Mariano Elias stated to The Standard that firefighters were able to subdue the flames by 12:31 a.m. However, not even an hour lapsed and another Tesla was reported on fire a block away, causing worry among residents as ashes floated onto nearby apartments' balconies.

With both Teslas reduced to rubble, authorities carted off the wreckage to a storage yard, trying to trace back the arsonist's footprints. Despite two incidents so close in proximity and time, the San Francisco Police Department remained tight-lipped on Sunday, refraining from offering any comments. According to SFist, a Tesla owner known as "Chris" was "shocked" when all he found in his usual parking spot was a pile of char and scrap metal, following the towing of his vehicle by the police, who are now reviewing nearby surveillance footage to unearth more clues.

The SFPD has noted 37 arson incidents since the beginning of the year, but whether these Tesla torchings are linked to a larger trend remains under scrutiny. The relative rarity of electric vehicle batteries, like the ones powering Teslas, to catch fire without external interference highlights the unusual nature of the incidents. As mentioned by Lt. Elias to The Standard, only the vehicles' contents caught fire, sparing their lithium-ion batteries which tend to burn hotter and longer once ignited.

This recent string of vehicle fires follows an incident earlier in the month when a Waymo robotaxi was set aflame by an unruly crowd on a busy North Beach corner. Despite such episodes, reports of Teslas "spontaneously" igniting have been rare enough that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) decided against opening an investigation into Tesla car battery fires in 2021. Yet, with these latest blazes in SoMa, the sentiment of safety among San Francisco's electric vehicle owner community has taken a hit, and eyes are now on the SFPD to bring a swift resolution and a return to normalcy.