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Third fire in Tesla Model S reported

A Tennessee fire chief said intense fire destroyed the front of the Tesla Model S, but not the passenger area.

Tennessee Highway Patrol via Associated Press

A Tennessee fire chief said intense fire destroyed the front of the Tesla Model S, but not the passenger area.

DETROIT — A Tesla Model S electric car caught fire this week after hitting debris on a Tennessee freeway, the third fire in a Model S in five weeks.

The blaze on Wednesday engulfed the front of the car. The Tennessee Highway Patrol said the car ran over a tow hitch, causing an electrical fire. It was the second Model S blaze involving debris.

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In early October, a driver near Seattle hit debris that pierced a shield and the battery pack, causing a fire. In the other fire, a driver in Mexico crashed into a concrete wall.

The Model S has as a large battery pack under the passenger compartment protected by a quarter-inch-thick metal shield. Experts say that if debris punctures the shield and damages the batteries, it can cause shorts and arcing that can touch off fires.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it will contact Tennessee authorities to determine if there are safety problems that need further action. Tesla sent a team to investigate.

Spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean said Tesla contacted the driver, who believes the car saved his life.

Larry Farley, Rutherford County fire chief, said the blaze melted the front of the car but the passenger compartment was in good shape.

About 194,000 vehicle fires occur on US roads yearly.

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