Vehicle Fires

Vehicle Fires

TIP 1:
Vehicle fires usually start in one of three places:
1. The engine compartment, from fuel or oil leaks.
2. Under the dash, from electrical shorts.
3. The back seat, from lighted cigarettes.

TIP 2: Several different kinds of fire extinguishers are available. An ABC extinguisher is the most versatile and will handle type A fires (ordinary combustibles, like wood, paper, or the burning upholstery of a back seat where a lighted cigarette has landed), type B fires (flammable liquids such as oil or gasoline), and type C fires (electrical). You’re best off with an ABC extinguisher.

The downside is the fine powdery residue an ABC extinguisher leaves. It will corrode electrical connections and will ruin computers and other electronic gear. You have to clean up thoroughly after using an ABC extinguisher.

To put out a fire, sweep the discharge from the extinguisher steadily back and forth across the base of the flames until the fire is out. Don’t spray the extinguisher toward the flames that are leaping into the air – that won’t do any good and just wastes the precious contents of the extinguisher.

If you have an upholstery fire in the back seat, smother the fire with the extinguisher, but then pull the back seat out of the vehicle. The fire will probably still be smouldering deep inside the seat. Open up the upholstery to extinguish the fire thoroughly.

TIP 3: Avoid using ABC extinguishers for fires around computers and other electrical equipment, if you possibly can. Halon is the extinguishing agent of choice. Halon extinguishers smother a fire by shutting out the oxygen, and work well if the fire is in a confined area. If there is a breeze, the Halon will be blown away, and the fire will flare up again. Under the dash electrical fires respond well to Halon, but you’ve got to disconnect the battery quickly after the fire is out, or the short circuit will start up the fire again.

Because of environmental considerations, the manufacture of Halon has been banned by the EPA, but previous supplies are still available and Halon extinguishers are still available from the General Fire Extinguisher Company of Northbrook, Illinois. The alternative to Halon is the old CO2 extinguisher. A new agent, Halatron, is scheduled for release in a few months. Whether it works as well as Halon remains to be seen.

TIP 4: Carry as large an extinguisher as you can fit in, to avoid the frustration of watching the fire flare up again just as you use the last of your little glove box extinguisher.

TIP 5: Engine compartment fires usually occur when a fuel line cracks and leaks onto a hot engine. Inspect fuel lines frequently and replace them if they’re cracking. This is especially important now since the gasoline additive MTBE has been associated with fuel line erosion and engine fires.

If you’ve got an engine fire, immediately turn off the ignition to shut down the fuel pump and the flow of fuel. Putting out an engine fire safely and efficiently takes two people. One holds the fire extinguisher and the other opens the hood. The fire will flare up as the fresh air hits it. Immediately spray the fire extinguisher across the base of the flames until the fire is out.
It’s important to get the hood open fast. If the fire burns through the hood release cable before you can get it open, there’ll be no way to get at the fire. Don’t try to put out an engine fire by spraying the extinguisher through the radiator or through the wheel wells – that won’t work and just wastes time and your fire extinguisher. You’ve got to get at the base of the flames.

TIP 6: If you’re fighting a vehicle fire, stay out of the “zone of danger,” which is the cone-shaped area directly behind a vehicle with the gas tank located in the usual position at the back. If a gas tank explodes, it sends a tremendous blast out from the rear of the vehicle. This can be lethal for 50 to 100 feet behind the vehicle.

TIP 7: A lot of 4x4s and pickups catch fire each year when the driver parks the rig in tall grass and leaves to go hunting, fishing, or hiking. The hot catalytic converter sets the grass on fire, and the rig is then parked in the middle of a raging grass or forest fire. It burns along with everything around it. So for the sake of your rig as well as the environment, don’t park close to anything that the catalytic converter or muffler could ignite.

TIP 8: If you drive a motor home or tow a camper-trailer, you have to be doubly careful, because these vehicles and trailers contain propane tanks, which provide another source of fuel for fire and explosion. These rigs are also prone to electrical fires because of their complex wiring harnesses. Be sure your motor home or trailer is equipped with a smoke detector and an LP gas detector.

TIP 9: You can set your rig on fire, or even be killed or injured yourself, when you’re filling the gas tank from a container on which static electricity has built up. A spark jumps from the container to the rig and explodes the gas fumes. Static electricity is likely to build up on a container that’s carried in a pickup with a plastic bed liner, or one that’s carried on the roof of a vehicle, where highway speeds cause the friction of the air against the container to build up a charge.

Be sure to ground the container before you open it to pour out the gasoline. And remember a nearly empty container can be even more dangerous than a full one, because the gas fumes inside the container are more explosive than liquid gasoline.

Left – medium size ABC dry chemical.
Center left – glovebox-size PK dry chemical.
Center right – large ABC dry chemical.
Right – Halon extinguisher.