Vehicle fires now more common than house fires

Calls for changes in rules on end-of-life cars as 3,500 vehicle fires reported in 2011

Conor Faughnan of AA Ireland said there was a general lack of awareness among car owners of vehicle fires and the associated costs and dangers

Conor Faughnan of AA Ireland said there was a general lack of awareness among car owners of vehicle fires and the associated costs and dangers

Wed, Dec 18, 2013, 08:10

Problems with the rules on end-of life-vehicles have been blamed for vehicle fires becoming more common than house fires. Data from the Department of the Environment show that in 2011 firefighters attended more than 3,500 vehicle fires compared with 3,490 house fires. The same pattern can be seen in data from 2010.

Conor Faughnan of AA Ireland said there was a general lack of awareness among car owners of vehicle fires and the associated costs and dangers. He said vehicle fires fell into two broad categories: those that were started deliberately and those in a vehicle in use. Mr Faughnan said weaknesses with the current provisions for end-of-life vehicles were also a significant factor.

“The absence of a proper end-of-life vehicle regime means there are a growing number of these older vehicles available which will never pass an NCT. Very often these cars are sold, sometimes for scrap or parts, and find their way back on to the road. These vehicles are then driven until they fall apart and are torched.”

He warned drivers tempted to sell a clapped-out car to someone who calls to the door that if they remained the registered owner they were liable for the fire brigade call-out cost, which averages between €400 and €500.

Mr Faughnan called on the Minister for the Environment to change the end-of-vehicle regime and introduce a tax-back scheme whereby the last registered owner would get a “reward” of several hundred euros once their vehicle was disposed of properly.


Unwanted cars
Mr Faughnan said the destruction of unwanted cars was a major cause of vehicle fires and noted that AA roadside technicians had not reported a significant increase in fires in vehicles in use. An electrical fault or issue with the fuel system were the two most common causes of fires among vehicles in use.

“If a fuel pipe frets against another part it can leak and this will cause a fire.”

Ross MacCobb, the national vice-chairman of The Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association, said vehicle fires are a daily part of his job as a firefighter and paramedic in Dublin.

“The majority we would attend appear to be the result of anti-social behaviour. We also get vehicle fires when a person was just driving along. Fires after a collision are rare.”

Vehicle fires were highly dangerous due to the materials used and the contents of the fuel tank and engine, he said.

“There are a huge number of risks and they are very fierce fires. Aside from the fuels, there is often magnesium in the steering column, the tyres will often explode and the rubber can be a projectile.”

Another risk can be the contents of the boot. “You can find anything in the boot, from a body to weapons. You just have to check them.”

Despite the risks he said firefighters were reluctant to allow a vehicle fire burn itself out due to the highly carcinogenic nature of the smoke. The association represents around one third of firefighters.