A car fire at the corner of Lincoln and Pico on Oct. 26 slowed traffic during the evening commute and drew a crowd of onlookers from the nearby shopping centers.

The car caught fire at about 6:30 p.m. and flames quickly spread throughout the vehicle despite an attempt from the driver to douse the fire with a bucket of water borrowed from the nearby Starbucks.

Fire trucks arrived within minutes and cleared the scene by about 7:20 p.m. No-one was hurt in the incident and the Santa Monica Fire Department said residents should treat vehicle fires in the same way they would any other fire.

First and foremost, dial 9-1-1. If the fire is small and residents have access to a working fire extinguisher, they can attempt to put it out. However, Clemo said fires in the engine compartment of a vehicle can be too dangerous to access and parts of a car can explode creating additional danger.

Clemo said modern cars contain pressurized canisters in the bumpers that can detonate, as can the tires.

“We encourage people not to get near it and wait for the Fire Department to arrive,” he said.

Some electrical components can also create small explosions, particularly in hybrid cars that contain complicated battery components.

Clemo said vehicle fires can be dangerous but the kind of large, gasoline-fueled explosion shown on television and in movies is rare due to the way cars are built.

“The way (gas tanks) are contained in vehicles is pretty well protected,” he said. “A lot of fire involvement is needed for a long time to breach it.”

He said the concentration and amount of gasoline is also a factor.

“It’s the vapor that explodes, not the liquid so an empty gas tank may be more dangerous than a full tank.”

The Oct. 26 fire occurred between Starbucks’s and a gas station. Any fire near a structure can be dangerous but Clemo said the construction of a gas station should prevent a catastrophic explosion due to fire. He said the actual gas tanks are underground with gas reaching the surface only when a pump is active and in addition, all stations have a master shut off switch. The result is that a fire at a gas station can spread quickly and might be driven by whatever residual gas is located in the hoses, but the station shouldn’t explode in a Hollywood style mushroom cloud.

Regardless, Clemo said calling the Fire Department should always be the first priority in a fire.

“Call 9-1-1 and get help started,” he said.


Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...