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Motor Vehicle Fires

Motor vehicle fires are a seldom-recognized part of the US fire problem:

  • In 2002-2005, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 306,800 vehicle fires per

year. These fires caused an average of 520 civilian deaths, 1,640 civilian injuries, and $1.3
billion in direct property damage.*

  • Collisions and overturns were factors contributing to the ignition in only 3% of the fires, but fires resulting from these incidents caused 57% of these vehicle fire deaths.*
  • Older teens and young adults are the age groups at highest risk of highway vehicle fire death and injuries.*


  • One-third (36%) of non-fatal highway vehicle fires injuries occurred when civilians attempted to fight the fire themselves.*

*National Fire Protection Association, 2008.

Motor vehicle fires can produce toxic gases. Trucks, cars and other motor vehicles are composed of many synthetic materials that can emit deadly gases when they burn. Carbon monoxide is a main by-product of fires. In high concentrations, this colorless, odorless and tasteless gas caused death.

A vehicle fire can generate temperatures greater than 1500 degrees Fahrenheit (to provide some perspective, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and most foods are fully cooked at temperatures of less than 500 degrees Fahrenheit). Motor vehicle fires can result in severe and/or fatal burn injuries. It is also important to note that burning vehicles can emit flames that shoot out to distances of more than ten feet.

Parts of a burning vehicle can burst due to the extreme heat, sending debris shooting great distances. These vehicle parts (including two-piece tire rims, drive shafts, axles, engine parts and other segments) all have the potential to become lethal shrapnel. Less rarely than many believe, gas tanks may rupture and spray flammable fuel which may erupt into flames. In rare cases, gas tanks have been seen to explode. Hazardous substances, such as battery acid, can result in injury even when not burning actively.

Firefighters are trained to extinguish vehicle fires, wearing fully protective fire-retardant equipment, as well as self-contained breathing units. Even with these safety precautions in place, approximately 1200 firefighters are injured yearly as a result of motor vehicle fires. Large amounts of water or other extinguishing agents are often required to put out the fire. Civilians should never attempt to extinguish a vehicle fire on their own- the risk of injury is simply too great.
Read examples of recalls, burn injuries and law suits resulting from motor vehicle related fires and explosions:

Jeep Wrangler Investigation- 04/2012
NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) said that it has received 23 complaints regarding fires in 2007-2012 Jeep Wranglers. Four people have been hurt, including three who received minor burns and one whose injuries were not explained in the complaints. Two houses suffered damaged. The NHTSA is focusing on electrical wiring and overheated transmission fluid as possible causes.

Helicopter Fire & Crash

The plaintiff in this case was the family of a helicopter pilot who died in a crash. The helicopter had been used for crop dusting and had just returned from the application of sulfur. The next application was potassium permanganate. Evidently, all of the sulfur was not removed from the hopper before the potassium permanganate was loaded. Since sulfur is a combustible material and potassium permanganate is an oxidizer, there was a fire on-board within ten minutes after the helicopter took off. The pilot attempted to land but hit electric power lines which resulted in a crash and fire.



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Contact Us If you, a family member, or someone you know have sustained a serious injury and you want to determine whether you have a Personal Injury claim and/or a Worker's Compensation claim, please contact us.

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