Nikola truck erupts in flames again, company still suspects 'foul play'

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Updated Jan 4, 2024
hose still spraying the burned nikola semi truck
The Phoenix Fire Department said the blaze at Nikola's headquarters took at least 12 hours to contain, and that it took hoses spraying the burning batteries with hundreds of gallons of water every minute.
Phoenix Fire Department

Firefighters in Phoenix, Arizona, responded to an electric semi truck fire at the Nikola corporation at 4141 E Broadway Rd in Phoenix on July 23 around 2 p.m.

Exactly one month prior, the same site saw another fire involving Nikola semi trucks, and the company suspects "foul play" in that case. 

Phoenix firefighters "trained in HazMat" responded to the fire on Sunday "and found a previously burned semi truck that reignited, experiencing another thermal runaway and ignition of the battery cells located in the vehicle," said Captain Kimberly Quick-Ragsdale, Public Information Officer at the Phoenix Fire Department.

She said no structures were threatened, but that the firefighters had to use a "deck gun, applying hundreds of gallons of water per minute and covering the cells burning at over 800 degrees."

EV fires have emerged as a new threat profile for firefighters. In October 2022, a firefighter told Fox Business that a "typical car fire in the past would be one tank of water from our engine and would be less than an hour job.โ€

[Related: EV fires bring on tough new lessons in firefighting]

With EVs, "weโ€™re finding take hours to cool the batteries to keep them out of a runaway situation. It just ties up resources a lot longer, and in some cases where we donโ€™t have a water source, we have to secure the area and let them burn," the firefighter said. 

In Phoenix on Sunday, crews managed to "change the chemical reaction by cooling the battery compartment allowing the batteries to then be broken down and managed by authorities," which the department said took more than 12 hours. 

Firefighters dousing the nikola truck fireFirefighters man the "deck guns" to douse the fire.Phoenix Fire Department

"While the smoke from these fires is extremely toxic, there are no reported injuries due to smoke inhalation at this time," Quick-Ragsdale concluded. 

Nikola, for its part, acknowledged the blaze and said "one of the trucks that was previously damaged reignited," referencing the earlier fire in June. 

"This truck was severely damaged in the original incident and was being monitored closely. In situations such as this, where a battery-electric vehicle has had its system compromised during an incident, it's known to have a higher-than-normal likelihood to reignite, which is why our safety and engineering teams were monitoring as our investigation continues," the Nikola spokesperson told CCJ

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But how about that "foul play?" Did criminals light the Nikola truck on fire in the first place?

"The investigation is still ongoing by both the Nikola engineering team and a contracted third-party. The findings will determine next steps," the Nikola spokesperson continued. 

To be clear, Nikola is still only investigating the initial fire as potential foul play. The second fire on Sunday was purely a re-ignition due to the truck's "damaged battery pack," Nikola said. 

Nikola has secured large federal and state grants to produce zero-emissions trucks and fueling infrastructure, and recently rolled out a new fuel cell electric truck. But, the company had to settle with the Securities Exchange Commission for $125 million after it was accused of misleading investors in 2021. 

Hydrogen Fuel Cell & BEV Survey
The following survey was sent as a link in an email cover message in February 2023 to the newsletter lists for Overdrive and CCJ. After approximately two weeks, a total of 176 owner-operators under their own authority, 113 owner-operators leased or assigned to a carrier and 82 fleet executives and 36 fleet employees from fleets with 10 or more power units had completed and submitted the questionnaire for a total of 407 qualified responses. Cross-tabulations based on respondent type are provided for each question when applicable.
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