Surviving a vehicle fire

 

Arrive Alive has issued their analysis on the threat of vehicle fires and provided advice on how to act in these emergencies.

Vehicle fire causes:

  •  Vehicle fires usually progress slowly in the early stages, allowing occupants time to escape. Injury or fatalities usually occur in cases where an occupant is asleep, disabled, intoxicated, or too young to escape.
  •  Most vehicle fires start in the engine compartment. Fuel leaks from ruptured fuel lines also can rapidly ignite.
  •  When a brand-new vehicle (or one which has had very recent repairs) burns, failure of the manufacturer (or a mechanic) to safely tighten all fluid connections is the most likely cause.
  • Car batteries pose a fairly unique hazard – hydrogen gas involved in the electrolysis reaction ignites readily in fire conditions and can result in an explosive dispersion of battery acid.
  • About 15 per cent of motor vehicle fires originate in the passenger compartment. The main causes of these are electrical short circuits and cigarettes

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Preventing vehicle fires:

  • Have your vehicle inspected at least annually by a trained, professional technician.
  • Check for any malfunctioning parts and hanging electrical wires. Do not leave them hanging.
  • Include a check of the fuel system in your regular maintenance schedule. Electrical and fuel system or problems are the major causes of car fires.
  • Watch for fluid leaks under vehicles, cracked or blistered hoses, or wiring that is loose, has exposed metal or has cracked insulation.
  • Have vehicles inspected and repaired as soon as possible if exhaust or emission control problems are suspected.
  • An early indication of a problem is a fuse that blows more than once. The source of the triggered fuse could be either a faulty component or a wiring problem.
  • Check for oil leaks and always use a funnel when adding oil. Oil spilt on a hot exhaust manifold can cause a fire.
  • If a filling station attendant adds oil, double check that the cap is on securely. This sounds obvious, but better to check than end up with oil all over your engine compartment at best, or an engine fire at worst.
  • Clean the vehicle regularly.
  • Avoid throwing cigarette butts anywhere.
  • When driving, be alert to changes in the way your vehicle sounds when running, or to a visible plume of exhaust smoke. A louder than usual exhaust tone, smoke coming from the tailpipe or a backfiring exhaust could mean problems or damage to the high-temperature exhaust and emission control system of the vehicle.
  • Observe your temperature gauge frequently.

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Here are safety suggestions to follow when your vehicle is smoking or on fire:

  • If the vehicle is moving, signal and move to the side of the road.
  • Fire feeds off oxygen and even slow forward motion will force air into the engine compartment, basically stoking the fire.
  • Pulling to the side makes it possible for everyone to get out of the vehicle safely.
  • Turn off the ignition to shut off the electric current and stop the flow of gasoline.
  • Put the vehicle in park or set the emergency brake; you don’t want the vehicle to move after you have alighted.
  • Make sure everyone gets out of the vehicle but do not waste time and increase your risk by removing personal belongings.
  • Move at least 100 feet away. Keep traffic in mind and keep everyone together. There is not only danger from the fire, but also from other vehicles moving in the area.
  • Keep onlookers and others away.
  • Do not go back into a burning vehicle.
  • Warn oncoming traffic.
  • Notify emergency services from a safe distance.

Do not open the hood or trunk if you suspect a fire under it. Air could rush in, enlarging the fire, leading to injury.

  • Be cautious of attempting to put out the fire yourself – there is a risk of explosion and toxic fumes emanating from vehicles fires. Inhalation of toxic fumes is the most common form of fire-related death.
  • One thing is certain, an emergency is not the time to start reading the instructions on your fire extinguisher. Everyone should have a fire extinguisher easily accessible in the passenger compartment.
  • If the fire is relatively small and in the interior, use your extinguisher. If there’s a small amount of smoke coming from under the hood, pop the release but don’t lift the hood. Quickly spray through the gap, from several feet away, aiming at the base of the fire rather than the flames.

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  AUTHOR
Welisa Nene

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