Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated May 25, 2010)
If you are well-traveled by automobile, you might have seen a car or two on the side of the road, engulfed in flames. You may have even had the misfortune to endure a fire in your own car. They can be quick and devastating. Knowing what to do in the case of a fire can literally save your life and minimize danger to others.
Most car fires occur in one of two places: the engine compartment or the passenger compartment. Fires in the engine compartment are normally caused by "backfires" within the carburetor. This occurs because hot gasses come back into the carburetor where they ignite any gas fumes that are there after the engine is turned off. An engine compartment fire could also be caused by any other method of heat or open flame coming into contact with gas vapors.
If you suspect a fire in your engine compartment, pull of the road (if necessary), but don't park the car near any other vehicles or near anything that might be combustible. Turn off the ignition and lights. This can help stop the flow of fuel and electricity, both of which could be components of the fire. Get everybody out of the car and move them to safety, a good distance from the car. (The fire could travel back down the fuel line to the fuel tank, providing an additional dangerous situation.)
If you have a fire in the passenger compartment, again pull off the road and get out of the car. Grab your dry-chemical fire extinguisher (you are carrying one in your car, aren't you?) and use it to put out the fire. Watch it, though—fires inside cars can spread quickly as there are usually plenty of combustible materials.
In any case, call the fire department or ask a passing motorist to call for you. You want them to get there as quickly as possible. Until they arrive, keep people away from the vehicle as much as possible. Remember—safety first!
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