Motor Vehicle Fires Can Be Dangerous!

A seldom recognized part of America’s fire problem is motor vehicle fires.

  • 1 out of 5 fires involves motor vehicles.
  • 1 out of 8 fire deaths results from motor vehicle fires.
  • 600 are killed and 2,600 civilians and 1,200 firefighters are injured a year from motor vehicle fires.

Fires in motor vehicles can produce toxic gases. Automobiles, trucks, and other motor vehicles are made of many synthetic materials that emit harmful, if not deadly gases when they burn. A main by-product of fires is carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that causes death in high concentration.

Fire can cause fatal or debilitating burn injuries. A vehicle fire can generate heat upwards of 1500 degrees F. Keep in mind that water boils at 212 degrees F, and that most foods are cooked at temperatures of less than 500 degrees F. Flames from burning vehicles can often shoot out distances of 10 feet or more.

Parts of the vehicle can burst because of heat, shooting debris great distances. Bumper and hatchback door struts, two-piece tire rims, magnesium wheels, drive shafts, grease seals, axle, and engine parts all can become lethal shrapnel.

Although relatively rare, gas tanks of motor vehicles can rupture and spray flammable fuel posing a clear potential for serious injury.  In even more extraordinary instances, gas tanks have been known to explode.  Hazardous materials, such as battery acid, can cause injury even without burning.

Vehicle fires are so dangerous that fire fighters wear full protective fire resistant equipment and self-contained breathing apparatus to keep themselves safe. They also have the ability to quickly put out vehicle fires with large amounts of water or other extinguishing agents. You don?t have these safety advantages so use extra caution. Motor vehicle fires can be dangerous!

If there is a fire, what should I do?

  • Get yourself and all others out of and away from the vehicle. If the vehicle is in a garage or other structure, exit immediately.
  • After you are a safe distance from the vehicle, call the fire department at 9-1-1 and tell them the location of the fire.
  • Remain away from the vehicle. Do not attempt to get back into a burning vehicle to retrieve personal property.
  • Never put yourself in danger using a fire extinguisher.  If you use a fire extinguisher, only do so from a safe distance and always have a means to get away.
  • It is recommended to use a fire extinguisher approved for use on Class B and Class C fires.
  • Do not open the hood or trunk if you suspect a fire under it.  Air could rush in, enlarging the fire, endangering the occupants by possibly leading to injury. However, if it is possible to pull the hood release as you exit the vehicle from a suspected engine fire, firefighters? entry into that compartment will be facilitated.
  • The dangers of motor vehicle fires are often overlooked.  Each year, these fires kill over 600 people and injure thousands more. Toxic gases and other hazardous substances, and flying debris and explosion, combine to produce serious dangers in motor vehicle fires.

© City of Hazelwood

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