Reports that a Tesla Supercharger in an NJ Wawa outlet caught on fire have been debunked. CNBC had reported the incident leading people to think that a Tesla Supercharger had caught on fire based on what appears to be a single statement from a Wawa employee. Further investigation into the fire by the local NJ fire department and a later statement from a Wawa spokesperson have debunked unverified reports of the Tesla Supercharger catching fire.
According to Automotive News, the Wawa fire in Parsippany, New Jersey, was an isolated incident that's unrelated to a Tesla Supercharger. The all-electric car maker’s charging station had not ignited as CNBC previously reported, neither was it the cause of the fire. In fact, upon reading Automotive News’ report further, readers may conclude that the fire was unconnected to the Tesla Supercharger at all.
“No vehicles were involved. It wasn’t the charging stations at all. It was a separate on-site transformer that sends power from JCP&L to the charging stations…Nothing to do really with the charging stations,” said Matthew Palmeiri, a clerk for Parsippany-Troy Hills Fire Department District 5.
CNBC had reported that a Tesla Supercharger caught on fire in a Wawa outlet in Parsippany, New Jersey in a report this Monday. The lede of the article—which tells readers the gist of a report—started with the words: “A Tesla Supercharger station located at a Wawa convenience store ignited in Parsippany, New Jersey, CNBC confirmed.”
Based on a Wawa spokesperson interviewed by CNBC, the Tesla Supercharger’s cabinet "had an issue" and was shut off while the fire was being investigated. The representative also stated that the store had been unaffected by the fire because it was on a separate power line.
Another Wawa spokesperson Lori Bruce contacted Automotive News via email and clarified the statement CNBC had received earlier. According to Bruce, the statement CNBC had collected, “did not speak to any details about a fire…Our intent was to confirm our store was not impacted.”
It seems that CNBC had jumped to conclusions when it retrieved information about the fire. The reporter had connected the first Wawa spokesperson’s words assuming that the issue with the Tesla Supercharger’s cabinet caused the fire. However, if the statement was read and digested correctly, one can see what the source actually meant.
Let’s look at that first statement again: “Tesla had an issue with their cabinet, and the power has been shut off while they are investigating.” Taken alone, one can conclude that the cabinet had been turned off after the fire because of the investigation. There could be two inferences here: a) the Tesla cabinet may have caused the fire or b) the fire affected the Supercharger’s cabinet.
CNBC went with the first inference, which was not confirmed at the time because the fire was still being investigated. Still, it reported that a Tesla Supercharger had ignited despite its lack of evidence, statements from other authorized sources, and the results of the investigation.
Based on the diction—or choice of words—of the report, CNBC seemed 100 percent sure that they reported the truth. The word ignited alone suggests that the Supercharger didn’t just catch fire, it exploded or burst into flames. The title suggests the same, even though it was not verified by the local fire department or Wawa at the time.
A screenshot of CNBC's report about the Wawa Supercharger fire as of 11/20/19 at 6:00 a.m. PST. (Credit: CNBC)
CNBC has yet to address the glaring issues with its report, and its false claims are being pushed by other online news outlets. As a book editor, I think the main issues here are diction and tone. I’ve read so many news articles where the reporters aren’t careful with the words they choose. String together a couple words that aren’t accurate, and you have an incorrect statement and a misleading report.
Maybe if CNBC had written with a tone that left room for interpretation, that report could be saved. However, as it stands, it claims that a Supercharger ignited, as in exploded, burst into flames, which just isn’t true. If it had said something like: “A Tesla Supercharger may have caused a fire at an NJ Wawa,” the CNBC report's veracity wouldn't be questioned. The precision of a writer’s words is essential, and the overall tone of a piece should be considered when anyone writes anything. But that’s just a book editor’s two cents.
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Longtime writer and news/book editor. Writing about Tesla allows me to contribute something good to the world, while doing something I love.