Something's burning, and I think it's ...

Brett Dikeman brett at
Sun Dec 9 09:31:01 PST 2007

On Dec 8, 2007, at 7:54 PM, <info at> wrote:

> Did you have an extinguisher in the car?  I had a fire in one of my
> vehicles this past summer, and from now on I carry and extinguisher.
> Sometimes (and this might have been one of those cases) it's not  
> enough.
> Sorry for the loss.

When Alexander van Gerbing (sp?) had his 80 turbo-and-5-speed  
conversion go up, he was caravanning with Dan Simoes back from Mt.  
Washington.  They pulled over and Dan used one of those tiny chemical  
bottles a lot of people have.  Those are for really small stuff-  
stovetop fires and the like.  Dan said later it was utterly useless.   
The car burned until a retired firefighter happened by and had a  
several gallon-sized unit in the back of his pickup (probably loaded  
with something like Coldfire, or maybe AFFF.  Coldfire is a water  
additive that works by endothermic reaction and the water->steam phase  
change, cooling the fire.  AFFF is what you see the airport guys using  
on plane fires; it works by smothering the fire with a layer of watery  
foam, cooling it and preventing vapor formation.)

I keep an extinguisher in my car; it's a 2L foam unit, which is  
supposed to have higher coverage areas for flammable liquids.  Not  
sure how well it works in practice, I've heard conflicting  
experiences.  It's there to save people first. Extinguishers are used  
to protect occupants until they can get out of a burning vehicle.   
THEN you think about attacking the fire.  Track workers are usually  
instructed this way.  Unless they have plenty of extinguishers and  
they know the fire truck is right around the corner; they won't really  
touch the fire except to protect the driver until they can get out.   
Empty the bottle protecting the driver while they get out and you lose  
the car.  Empty the bottle trying to put out the fire and fail?  Now  
you have a fire, a still trapped driver, and an empty bottle...

NEVER open the hood on a car fire unless you know what you are doing.   
Opening the hood, or even just popping it with the release, is enough  
to introduce a big gulp of fresh oxygen, and can release a big  
belching fireball.  It is somewhat similar to backdrafts; especially  
on newer cars, the engine compartments are pretty closed spaces.   
Tight body panel seams, lots of rubber seals, underbody trays,  
everything is compact and tight, etc.  The sealed up nature also makes  
getting extinguishing agents in very difficult- you can certainly  
forget chemical units unless you have direct access.

  I have personal experience with a pretty small fire- someone at LRP  
came into the pits with grease or oil on fire (too big a turbo into  
too small a VW- the heat cooked a line or something loosened and it  
caught fire, damaged the front diff boot, etc.)  Bunch of us club  
folks were standing around under the tower shooting the breeze when we  
heard over the radio that someone was on fire.  Someone said, "did he  
just say...'on fire'?"

Not noticing track workers furiously waving their arms and holding out  
their fire extinguishers, the student drove something like half or 3/4  
of the way around the track back to the pits and pulled in.  I got the  
underside put out as far as I could see, but we all wondered if the  
smoke was just melted stuff still smoking, or an active fire hidden up  
inside.  Despite my yelling "DO NOT OPEN THE HOOD", what did the  
student do?  Popped the hood, and I got a face full of smoke and steam.

That gave me better access to the area which may/may not have still  
been burning between the back of the block and the firewall way down  
low- I just aimed/sprayed/prayed at the back of the engine from a good  
distance to avoid smoke/steam, and we emptied at least another multi- 
gallon Cold Fire bottle to cool things down to prevent re-ignition.   
If it had still been burning in a small spot, opening the hood saved  
the car- but it was of highly questionable safety; none of us had any  
idea whether the fire was still burning or not, whether there was fuel  
involved, etc.


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