A Sherbrooke man says he barely escaped with his life after his car mysteriously bursted into flames while driving last month.

The incident happened in Montreal on March 5 at around 1 a.m. Sacha De Santis says he had just stepped into his high-end Tesla, the Model X, when smoke began to plume out of the vents.

"There was so much smoke in the air that I couldn't drive," he told CTV News. "I was lucky I wasn't on the highway."

He was in the car with his girlfriend at the time. He says he pulled over near Henri Bourassa and Olympia boulevards as flames emerged and heat cracked the front window. Minutes later, he says, the car was engulfed in fire.

"I had so much stuff in my car as well," he said. "Clothes, computers … I was able to get my phone and call 911."

Still, he says, he's just happy to be alive. His car, which he bought new in 2020, was destroyed. A video posted later on social media shows what's left of the vehicle — the dashboard was reduced to a cluster of wires, and the upholstery was almost completely disintegrated.

He says he was using the car's heating app when the fire started. The Montreal fire department confirmed it responded to the call, and four firefighters were able to contain the blaze.

He thanked the police and firefighters who responded to the fire, adding a word of caution to other drivers.

"Pay attention and stay alert for signs of smoke or fire," he wrote alongside his video. "It can happen in any vehicle!"

He says he brought his story to a nearby Tesla dealership, where staff told him they would investigate the incident. He had insurance on the car, he said, and has since purchased another vehicle, also from Tesla.

CTV News reached out to Tesla to respond to De Santis' story, but did not hear back from the company by publication time. 

Last summer, Transport Canada took possession of another Tesla that suddenly lost power, seemingly rendering the doors inoperable, before bursting into flames in Vancouver.

In a January statement, the ministry told CTV it had ruled out the battery as the fire's cause, but had not yet pinpointed the source of the flames.

CTV News also reached out Transport Canada for an update on the investigation, but has not heard back.


George Iny, a consumer advocate fromm the Automobile Protection Association of Montreal, said in this case it appears the fire may have started in the vents or been due to an overheating dash, pointing to a potential issue in the heating and electrical systems.

But Iny said his organization is also concerned about the risk of fires in electric vehicles that use lithium-ion batteries, as Teslas do.

"We're absolutely convinced we haven't heard the last on this subject," he said. "Lithium-ion is just not that stable. We predict that as electric vehicles get older, ones using that technology will be more prone to catch fire."

Iny pointed to recalls of the Hyundai Kona and Chevrolet Bolt in recent years for that reason.

Fires started in the batteries of electric vehicles are especially concerning, he said, because the battery is underneath the car, making it harder for firefighters to access. They also burn hotter and require more water to put out.

"It's a worry for us," he said. "Our hope, long term, is that lithium-ion is replaced with something that's more stable."

While Tesla vehicles don't necessarily present a higher risk than other electric cars, they have been on the market since 2012 and are sold far more than other electric vehicles, said Iny/. He said to expect to see car fires in Teslas because they're overrepresented in the category.

Iny said the APA still recommends EVs with lithium-ion batteries, adding, "but we are aware the situation could go sideways." 

Iny has two tips for drivers:

  • keep a small mallet in your car to smash glass in case of an emergency
  • report any vehicle fires to Transport Canada via its online defect complaint form or by calling 1-800-333-0510.

With files from CTV News Montreal's Amy Luft