Motor Vehicle Fires can be DANGEROUS!

Fires in motor vehicles can produce toxic gases.  Automobiles, trucks, and other motor vehicles are made of many synthetic materials that emit harmful, if not deadly gases when they burn.  A main byproduct of fires is a lethal concentration of carbon monoxide, which is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas.

Fire can cause fatal or debilitating burn injuries.  A vehicle fire can generate heat upwards of 1500°F.  Keep in mind that water boils at 212°F, and that most foods are cooked at temperatures of less than 500°F.  Flames from burning vehicles can shoot out distances of 10 feet or more.

Parts of the vehicle can burst because of heat, shooting debris great distances.  Bumper and hatchback door struts, two-piece tire rims, magnesium wheels, drive shafts, grease seals, axle parts, and engine parts all can become lethal shrapnel.  Vehicle fires may also cause air bags to deploy.

Although relatively rare, gas tanks of motor vehicles can rupture and spray flammable fuel, posing a clear potential for serious injury.  In even more extraordinary instances, gas tanks have been known to explode.  Hazardous materials, such as battery acid, can cause injury even without burning.

Vehicle fires are so dangerous that firefighters wear full protective fire resistant clothing and self-contained breathing apparatus to keep themselves safe. They also have the ability to quickly put out vehicle fires with large amounts of water or other extinguishing agents. You don't have these safety advantages so use extra caution. MOTOR VEHICLE FIRES CAN BE DANGEROUS.

  • Nearly 1 out of 4 fires involves a motor vehicle.
  • 1 out of 8 fire deaths results from motor vehicle fires.
  • Approximately 550 people are killed and 2,100 civilians and 1,200 firefighters are injured each year from motor vehicle fires.


  • Get yourself and all others out of and away from the vehicle. If the vehicle is in a garage or other structure, exit immediately.
  • After you are a safe distance from the vehicle, call the fire department at 911.  Tell them the location of the fire.
  • Remain away from the vehicle.  Do not attempt to get back into a burning vehicle to retrieve personal property.
  • Never put yourself in danger using a fire extinguisher.  If you do use a fire extinguisher, do so only from a safe distance and always have a means to get away.
  • It is recommended to use a fire extinguisher approved for use on Class B and Class C fires.
  • Do not open the hood or trunk if you suspect a fire under it.  Air could rush in, enlarging the fire and leading to injury.
  • The dangers of motor vehicle fires are often overlooked.  Each year, these fires kill over 550 people and injure thousands more.  Toxic gases and other hazardous substances, and flying debris and explosion, combine to produce serious dangers in motor vehicle fires.

Compliments of United States Fire Administration/Federal Emergency Management Agency


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