Motor Vehicle Fires

Firefighters Extinguishing a Car Fire

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

  • One out of five fires involves a motor vehicle.
  • One out of eight fire deaths results from a motor vehicle fire.
  • Six hundred people are killed and 1,200 firefighters are injured a year from motor vehicle fires.

Motor Vehicle Fires Can Be Dangerous

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 byproduct of fires is carbon monoxide, an odorless colorless and tasteless gas that, in high concentration, causes death.

Fire can cause fatal or debilitating burn injuries. A vehicle fire can generate heat upwards of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit and that most foods are cooked at temperatures of less than 500 degrees Fahrenheit. 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, 2-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 firefighters wear full protective fire resistant equipment and self-contained breathing apparatus to keep them safe. They 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.

What You Should Do

Get yourself and all others out of and away from the vehicle. After you are a safe distance from the vehicle, call 911. Tell the dispatcher 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, leading to injury.