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Cars on Fire - How to approach?

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  • Cars on Fire - How to approach?

    Thought I'd chuck this up here as it's a bit of an interesting one and be good to get people's take on how to handle a car on fire.

    I'm going to include the video I have for the moment, really because although in this case the occupants were out and safe I think it's a good learning lesson. Just thinking of what would happen if you came across a similar situation with people trapped inside a bit of wreckage after an accident, a few tips I'm sure could save lives. In this case we missed our chance and there was nothing we could do but watch on.

    So billying down the M50 today (so southbound) coming towards Carrickmines I saw a bit of a cloud ahead of me in the distance before coming across a car with smoke pouring out from under the bonnet and it's driver about 30 metres away safely on their phone.

    Thankfully my dashcam was recording, this is at 13:07
    https://i.imgur.com/fiEJMXO.mp4

    My first thought was that it was still in the early stages and how handy it'd be to have an extinguisher before remembering that I actually do carry an extinguisher for just these very occasions!!
    I pulled the jeep up in the hard shoulder just past the car and jumped out to grab my Lidl 1Kg powder special from the back seat before running towards the now slightly more heavily smoking car. As I got there another bloke, also sporting a Lidl special matching my own arrived and we mentally high fived them together before briefly reviewing the situation

    These are the ones I'm talking about:


    We'd a quick assessment and from what I could see the fire was in the middle of the engine bay (small area where it had cooked the paint off).
    With the bonnet tightly shut and the doors locked my new fire fighting best mate legged it off to the driver to get the keys to try open the driver door to pop the bonnet.
    At that point I tried a spray through the grill which didn't seem to help before trying to squeeze the nozzle under the top (so windscreen edge) of the bonnet but it didn't seem to help.

    My mate came back unsuccessful, the car was locked and although I know we could use the key to open the door the driver was busy talking away on the phone and I imagine fairly well in shock so it'd be hard to explain the situation and get consent which at this stage wasn't really important. They were safe, the car can be replaced.

    At that stage we decided to try unloading the extinguishers from the top of the bonnet and a bit through the grill to see if it'd help, it probably slowed it from a minute or so but soon after visible flames started lapping up and at that stage it was game over so we backed away.

    Here's it about a min after the attempt to save it, this is timestamped at 13:10




    At 13:13 this is how it looked
    https://i.imgur.com/XpKNIs3.mp4

    I don't know if anyone on here follows SuperspeedersRob (or even just watches a few of his video's) but he put a video up the other day which was fairly relevant so I was actually interested to see what happens next. It was slow spreading but it did, first bang was the coolant bottle popping before the tyres let go one by one and it wasn't long before it was obvious only a shell would be left behind.
    I did head off once the Guard's arrived but before the show ended , can't imagine it helps emergency services people hanging round and similar to the owner of the car.

    Here's what I left behind at 13:19
    https://i.imgur.com/GhJH6e5.mp4



    Really doing a bit of an assessment after the events I'm now aware of a couple of things, first those 1kg fire extinguishers are great but they only really give what looks to be about 5 seconds of spray. Given I didn't have direct access to the fire just spraying around the area obviously didn't help but I'm sure it would've been extremely effective had we opened the bonnet. What was really interesting is that I only had one chance with the extinguisher, might seem obvious to people but it's not an endless hose and once I'd blown my beans there was literally helpless feeling like I'd wasted the shot we had.

    So here's a few questions I have and am wondering what people's thoughts are on them to see if there's some sort of consensus.

    If a car's on fire, should you go near it at all?
    In this situation I'd quickly confirmed that the occupants were out, away and safe. At that point do you even bother attempting anything?
    The car would've been written off by smoke damage anyway (car was 5 years old) and probably easier for the owner if it's a shell rather than a car with engine damage.

    In this case my approach was that the fire was very evidently still contained in the engine bay well away from the tank so worth a go.

    Would I expect an explosion from the tank, then is it only petrol or diesel or both?
    This was one thing I was really expecting once the entire car went up, I don't expect a F&F style boom that sends the car 10 metres into the air but I did expect that at some stage it'd release a fireball or burst out the bottom of the tank and send a bit of a sea of fire outwards.
    Maybe it did after I left but thought it'd be one of the first things once the flames reached it

    Should you attempt to open the bonnet?
    In this case it couldn't be done fast enough but even if we could get it popped, a car you're not familiar with trying to find the release in the grill or under the leading edge would be a nightmare. Then even if you got that popped is there going to be some massive flaming of the fans as you fling it open?
    The other thing here is that the bonnet would've been extremely hot, like way to hot for bare hands so worth keeping some fire retardant gloves along with your in car extinguisher.

    Had we got this open I'm confident the fire would've been put out, in this situation would you smash the driver window (or attempt to?) I do always feel hesitant unless it was for life saving as I feel in the culture that's developed in the world you could be held liable for the cost of replacement.

    Is there anything else that should be considered?
    For example one thing I did notice was that about 5% of cars were still using the slow line driving right past the burning car, I can't imagine you'll have any effect on this without a patrol car but one thing I did see was that my mate was wandering out on the road focused on the burning car and not always keeping a good eye on traffic. That was probably the biggest risk of the whole thing to the point where he got beeped a couple of times. This is something I'm always very conscious of when stopping on the motorway.

    As I say discuss away but main takeaway from me with this situation was that one second with two full extinguishers we felt like we were on top of the situation but once they were gone we were left with our hands in our pockets looking at it. If you have an extinguisher make sure you've your best shot at it before unloading.

    Timeline wise it's interesting as you definitely do have a chance to save it before it's gone but that window looks to be about 5 minutes in length.
    Last edited by turlock; 11-11-2021, 07:58 PM.
    "750 hp, on a car that i presume still has leaf springs and no seatbelts?
    I suppose if you want to go out like a man there is no better option" -hi-rev

  • #2
    Firstly fair play for even pulling over never mind attempting to save the car!
    Personnaly i would be very cautious about going near a car on fire once it was empty of its occupants it realy is a very dangerous and unpredictable situation!
    Sometimes adrenaline takes over and well your in the middle of it before you realise!

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    • #3
      I came across something similar a couple of years ago and the same as your situation the driver had walked off and locked the car.

      I had no extinguisher but had barrels of water in the van. A lad had stopped and wouldn't go near the car (it's not Hollywood, they usually don't just dissappear in a mushroom cloud). He had a small powder extinguisher so I sprayed it through the grill. Needless to say it didn't do much.

      I poured as much water as I could around any opening I could get at around the bonnet. Once the flames came through the wheel arch I walked away. Luckily the fire brigade arrived before it took hold.

      The only chance I reckon is to crack the bonnet and spray in to the engine bay, as you said, with the small extinguisher you'll only get one shot.

      After reading this I must get a couple of extinguishers for the van, as you seen yourself, if you don't get it early forget about it.

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      • #4
        I think I recall reading that you shouldn’t pop the bonnet as you allow more oxygen and therefore increase the chances of the fire spreading. No one hurt is the main thing, but maybe another carbon tax increase!!
        I’m standing in a field full of sheep, is it wrong that I feel aroused?? 🤨🤪

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Bazg2 View Post
          I think I recall reading that you shouldn’t pop the bonnet as you allow more oxygen and therefore increase the chances of the fire spreading. No one hurt is the main thing, but maybe another carbon tax increase!!
          Exactly this. With the car putting out this much smoke it's fate had already been sealed as the fire was out of control already (unless you happened to be driving past in a fire tender).
          Once the occupants were out, let it burn. Maybe place a warning triangle /flashing beacon further back along the road to help warn oncoming traffic.


          Edit: I remember going to a VW show many, many years ago and a VW Beetle developed a tiny electrical fire (think the owner had fitted a head unit and used those dodgy scotchlok connectors). I emptied a 1kg extinguisher on it and only just managed to put it out.
          Last edited by GeeTI; 11-11-2021, 11:39 PM.

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          • #6
            So, we do a fair bit of fire training as you can’t get the fire brigade in the middle of the Atlantic.

            I’m trained in helicopter fire fighting too.

            1 kg powder won’t do a lot, if it’s a small fire it’ll knock it down but if there is heat in it, then it’ll come back as soon as it gets a bit of air.

            With powder, you need to turn it upside down and give it a shake.

            It will also make shite of the electrical system.

            If it’s windy, it gets pulled away.

            It’s a great medium to knock down a fire, and indoors it works well. It can work outdoors but it is limited.

            Firing it in the grill might work, if there is no rad in the way. Down the vents at the base of the windscreen might be worth a go or if it is safe, I would get low and shoot it up from under the car and fill the engine space.

            A fire blanket in the car would work if it meant getting close enough to help someone.

            Personally I would use a powder extinguisher to escape or get someone out, after that if you haven’t got the correct kit or the training it’s better to stay away from it.


            Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Jay View Post
              I came across something similar a couple of years ago and the same as your situation the driver had walked off and locked the car.

              I had no extinguisher but had barrels of water in the van. A lad had stopped and wouldn't go near the car (it's not Hollywood, they usually don't just dissappear in a mushroom cloud). He had a small powder extinguisher so I sprayed it through the grill. Needless to say it didn't do much.

              I poured as much water as I could around any opening I could get at around the bonnet. Once the flames came through the wheel arch I walked away. Luckily the fire brigade arrived before it took hold.

              The only chance I reckon is to crack the bonnet and spray in to the engine bay, as you said, with the small extinguisher you'll only get one shot.

              After reading this I must get a couple of extinguishers for the van, as you seen yourself, if you don't get it early forget about it.
              Putting water in like this is called boundary cooling. It works really well if you have enough water.

              With a car you have to think about the electrical system. Will you get a shock from it if it is still live. Think PHEV or EV cars.

              The other one is water in a fuel fire isn’t a good idea, it will expand it rapidly. If you can imagine the amount of steam created from spilling water on a hot surface, then you have the same effect with fire as the oil sits on the outside of the water droplet. You can end up in the middle of a fireball if you don’t know what you are doing.


              Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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              • #8
                Fair play for trying to out it.

                All the talk in the UK about E10 petrol has me thinking about what I need do to my old cars to try reduce the risk of fire.

                I see a lot of people on about fire safety sticks,I wonder could be get a group buy going if we found a supplier in Ireland?

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                • #9
                  Yeah, walk away from an empty EV if it’s burning!
                  I’m standing in a field full of sheep, is it wrong that I feel aroused?? 🤨🤪

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    You've to be on the ball and get to them very quick. Years ago I had an earthing kit wire come loose and arc itself on the bonnet when I went to start the car. Dash lights went off and I had nothing to indicate there was a fire. I popped the bonnet and when I lifted it there was a little puff of smoke and the next thing I knew the cables on top of the battery went up in flames. Luckily I was parked outside work so ran in to get an extinguisher. Even luckier again there was a chap in the car park with a small 1kg or 1.5kg extinguisher that had it put out before I got back to it.

                    He was driving (what I think was) an Austra Turbo. He was gone as soon as he put it out more or less and to this day I still haven't a clue who he is.

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                    • #11
                      Anonymous good Samaritan ,,.nice

                      Would bashing in the front grill with a wheel brace or breaker bar, make much of a difference for quenching the fire I wonder.

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                      • #12
                        My Dads Mk II escort went on fire back in 1988 just a few months after he retired. He was not very mechanically minded and continued to drive on even after he noticed smoke in the cabin. I was not with him obviously. These fires are usually started in the electrics so having an electrical kill switch is VIP. I am sure most EV's would have such a switch - there's one on my electric moped so first job would be to find that and switch it to off or on older cars disconnect the battery if that is possible.

                        In my dads case I blame a scrap yard sourced electric wiper motor which I had recently installed. Amazingly we restored that car after the fire and he got another 6 years out of it and £500 when he eventually sold it privately. Although I am sure doing so (restoring it) made no economic sense.

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                        • #13
                          I learned about the small fire extinguishers years ago when a guy I knew who had a gorgeous 325 sport came out of the shop and it went up under the bonnet. He had one of those extinguisers and tbh he might as well have blew on it for all the good it did we ran around and tried to get this an that but in the end it was no avail. After that I never bothered to carry one. I would carry one of the large ones but if your involved in an accident somthing that large can become a projectile in the car and tbh it's just a mine field. Also would you want a car back thats been fire damaged? I'm sure it would never be right and would have a smell forever. Personally i'd probably want it to be well and truely burned once everyone was out and safe. Like if I had a car stolen I wouldn't want it back to be honest.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Bazg2 View Post
                            Yeah, walk away from an empty EV if it’s burning!
                            What do you do if it’s in an underground car park? I’d say it would get very unpleasant.
                            I'm with the resistance

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                            • #15
                              This is not an uncommon thing in farming circles, and the cold rule is to get safe, if there's things attached together get them seperated, then stand back and watch it burn. it's highly unlikely you will stop it, you put yourself at risk doing so, and to be brutally honest the last thing you want is to get something back from the insurance that's damaged/repairable after a fire and some dry powder have been involved.


                              In terms of firing in through the grille, that's pretty pointless in anything built in the last 30 years I'd say as airflow is tightly managed on the front of a car, there are no gaps that don't have some form of radiator/cooler in them.

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