U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 287,000 vehicle fires per year (nearly 17% of all reported fires). These fires cause an estimated 480 civilian deaths (more than 12% of all U.S. civilian fire deaths), 1,525 civilian injuries, and $1.3 billion in direct property damage annually.
Older teens and young adults are age groups at highest risk of highway vehicle fire death.
On average, 31 highway vehicle fires were reported per hour. These fires killed one person a day.
Ninety-three percent of reported fires and 92% of vehicle fire deaths involved highway-type vehicles such as cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles.
Three-quarters of highway vehicle fires resulted from mechanical or electrical failures or malfunctions. Collisions or overturns caused only 3% of these fires but 58% of the associated deaths.
One-third of non-fatal highway vehicle fire injuries occurred when civilians attempted to fight the fire themselves. Vehicle maintenance is crucial to preventing vehicle fires. The American Automobile Association offers the following tips:
Have your vehicles inspected at least annually by a trained, professional technician.
Watch for fluid leaks under vehicles, cracked or blistered hoses, or wiring that is loose, has exposed metal or has cracked insulation. Have any of these conditions inspected and repaired as soon as possible.
Be alert to changes in the way your vehicle sounds when running, or to a visible plume of exhaust coming from the tailpipe. A louder than usual exhaust tone, smoke coming from the tailpipe or a backfiring exhaust could mean problems or damage to the high-temperature exhaust and emission control system on the vehicle. Have vehicles inspected and repaired as soon as possible if exhaust or emission control problems are suspected.
Avoid smoking. If you must smoke, use your vehicle ashtray.
Drive according to posted speed limits and other traffic rules. Remain alert to changing road conditions at all times.
Stop – If possible, pull to the side of the road and turn off the ignition. Pulling to the side makes it possible for everyone to get out of the vehicle safely. Turn off the ignition to shut off the electric current and stop the flow of gasoline. Put the vehicle in park or set the emergency brake; you don't want the vehicle to move after you leave it. Keep the hood closed because more oxygen can make the fire larger.
Get Out – Make sure everyone gets out of the vehicle. Then move at least 100 feet away. Keep traffic in mind and keep everyone together. There is not only danger from the fire, but also from other vehicles moving in the area.
Call for Help – Call 911. Firefighters are specially trained to combat vehicle fires. Never return to the vehicle to attempt to fight the fire yourself. Vehicle fires can be tricky, even for firefighters.
Keep gasoline and other fuels out of children's sight and reach. Gasoline is highly toxic in addition to being a fire hazard. Never allow a child to pump gas.
Don't smoke, light matches or use lighters while refueling.
Pay attention to what you're doing. Pumping gas is the transfer of a hazardous substance; don't engage in other activities.
If you must use any electronic device, such as cell phones, computers or portable radios while refueling, follow manufacturer's instructions.
Use only the refueling latch on the gasoline dispenser nozzle, if there is one. Do not jam the latch with an object to hold it open.
To avoid spills, do not top off or overfill your vehicle.
After pumping gasoline, leave the nozzle in the tank opening for a few seconds to avoid drips when you remove it.
If a fire starts while you're refueling, don't remove the nozzle from the vehicle or try to stop the flow of gasoline. Leave the area immediately and call for help.
Don't get in and out of your vehicle while refueling. A static electric charge can develop on your body as you slide across the seat, and when you reach for the pump, a spark can ignite gasoline vapor.
If you must get into the vehicle during refueling, discharge any static electricity by touching metal on the outside of the vehicle, away from the filling point, before removing the nozzle from your vehicle.
Use only approved portable containers for transporting or storing gasoline. Make sure the container is in a stable position.
Never fill a portable container when it is in or on the vehicle. Always place the container on the ground first. Fires caused by static charges have occurred when people filled portable containers in the back of pick-up trucks, particularly those with plastic bed liners. Removing the container will also prevent a dangerous spill of gasoline.
When filling a portable container, keep the nozzle in direct contact with the container. Fill it only about 95 percent full to leave room for expansion.
An estimated 5,020 fires and explosions occurred at public service stations per year from 2004-2008. That means that, on average, one in every 13 service stations experienced a fire. These 7,400 fires caused an annual average of two civilian deaths, 48 civilian injuries and $20 million in property damage.
Of those 5,020 fires, almost two-thirds (61%) involved vehicles. Structure fires accounted for 12% of total incidents but 59% of the direct property damage.
Twelve percent of fire incidents at service stations were outside trash or rubbish fires.