Car Fire Epidemic in DC

I know I’ll upset some readers with the following statement but – this is insane. Monday afternoon we spoke about some mysterious car fires in Columbia Heights. A reader from Adams Morgan writes in after reading that post:

“My car also mysteriously caught on fire on Wednesday night (or technically Thursday morning). Picture attached.

The fire department and police department came and woke us up to let us know our Ford Escape was on fire – it looks eerily similar to some of these pictures. We’re hoping to get a copy of the police report today, but at the scene the cops/fire department said they didn’t see an signs of arson. Our insurance company towed the car on Friday and is doing their own investigation now.

I also have out of state tags – Indiana – but was parked right next to a car with Ohio tags that was untouched. It was in a small parking area in the alley behind my house in Adam’s Morgan.

I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that it was a random electrical issue (even though it had been parked for 7 hours with no one driving it or coming near it).

I’m not saying I’ve now changed my mind, but this is at least interesting.”

Another reader writes in saying that an investigation is now ongoing involving the fire and police departments. Hopefully there will be an update soon.

46 Comment

  • awful awful awful, this sounds like Vincent Gray / Courtland Milloy supporters. just horrible.

  • Could it be the rats eating the wires and causing a short?

  • Just curious….

    what year was the Ford Escape in question? I just purchased a used one….

  • I marvel at the calm of those writing about the destruction of their cars. I’d be beyond angry.

  • If this isn’t arson, it’s like a M. Night Shyamalan movie plot.

  • Within the last two weeks on Fairmont Street … not total destruction but an Audi parked across from my building was aflame at around 8:15 when I left for work. Cops and fire response were in progress by the time I walked by. The fire appeared to be near the gas tank which was terribly frightening. Didn’t get close enough to see whether tags, etc. were out of state.

  • It’s one thing to burn a foreign car, but a Ford? Wow, this is getting ridiculous. It’s really time for the Obama administration to open up an investigation into this anti-Americanism. We can’t let these ‘rorists burn our fine Detroit-made autos!

  • I’m surprised with the seven million surveillance cameras in DC that nothing has been caught on video.

  • I’m not saying these fires aren’t suspicious, but I just want to point out that just because the car hasn’t been driven for a long time doesn’t mean the bud of an electrical fire can’t be slowly growing in the engine. The battery still holds a charge and if the wires are damaged, they can be generating heat until it reaches some critical mass and bursts into flames.

    Having said that, though, I’d be stunned if the authorities aren’t looking at this as a serial arsonist.

    • Yes, but it’s 10x more likely to occur when all the systems are actively drawing power. The heat of the engine would also contribute to wires reaching critical capacity.

      Even if these specific cars were igniting themselves, they would tend to do so when conditions favor it — when the engine’s running or shortly thereafter. These cars tend to ignite when they are LEAST likely to do so themselves, and most favorable to someone avoiding discovery as they get their torch on. You don’t have to be Nancy Drew to put this case together.

  • Classic case of using partial stories and half-facts to create a chosen story… cars catch fire all the time spontaneously… in a city with thousands of parked cars, it’s going to happen. Some brands do it more than others (ford exploder etc.) But if 2-3 do it in the same neighborhood within a week it doesn’t mean its a car burning conspiracy.

    • Based on the number of reports, it is more like 5 or 6 in the same neighborhood, all within a 1 mile radius. That is suspicious, particularly given we were not hearing about similar incidents prior the past couple of weeks.

      • I think you are making up the 5-6 number. PoP has mentioned 3 I believe. Also… if one car burns it doesn’t make news, so you wouldn’t hear about it.

        • Well, I am not making it up. Posting from a few weeks ago:

          That’s 3. Yesterday’s posting was an additional 2. That’s 5. Today is another one. That’s 6. And another person commented today about a 7th one.

          So you’re right, I was wrong about 5-6, it’s actually 7.

          • that story is over a month old… not a few weeks ago.

            find a few more burned cars from last year… that might strengthen your conspiracy theory.

            you are actually proving my point that cars catch fire at random times, somewhat regularly. 4 last month, 3 this month… that’s likely a normal result, but go ahead an believe what you want to believe!

            it’s really a stupid debate because neither of us know what is really happening! i’m just asking for some perspective before we all go assuming it is arson.

          • Wow, dude. This is supposed to be a discussion, and you’re just being a contentious asshole. Get over yourself!



        • “4 last month, 3 this month… that’s likely a normal result, but go ahead an believe what you want to believe!”

          To most rational people, that seems like a lot within such a small area. You are making an opposing argument that seems to be held by a majority of the people on here, therefore, the burden is on you to provide some proof or statistics of your assertions. So yes, provide some perspective please, but don’t just make shit up.

    • “cars catch fire all the time spontaneously”…do they really? how often, what percentages of cars? I’m not being a dick, I would like to know..I’ve never heard of so many cars catching fire…

      • certain Ford brands in particular have a propensity to catch fire spontaneously when parked. it has been a pretty big story.

        • “The company says it has not yet investigated their auto insurance claim, but notes that the insurance industry reports about 100,000 noncollision fires per year involving nearly all makes and models sold.”

          This is from the article. Google says there are roughly 62-65 million cars in the US (and about 60 million more unregistered) the percentage of “noncollision” fires is .001.

          So 7 cars in a couple weeks in a few square miles seems significant.

          • nice math… but it’s wrong.

            62 million registered vehicles according to DOT (via google) in 2005… 6 million unregistered, not 60.

            100,000 non-collision fires per year

            So 1 out of 680 cars catches fire every year on average… this doesn’t take many other factors into account… including that certain cars are way more likely than others to catch fire, depending on how well the owner has maintained the car etc.

            Also its not in the last couple weeks its the last couple months…

            i’m glad they are investigating, but i remain skeptical.

          • I think your proving everyone else’s point. those numbers were pulled quickly from google, so who knows the accuracy, but I tend to think if 1 car in every 680 is an unprovoked fire…then we’d here about it much more often…and you’re arguing against yourself with the type of car-way more likely than others argument. That would make fords/mini’s (cars that have been reported for unprovoked fires) burn at a much higher rate that 1 in 680..say we cut it in half…can you really imagine one our of every 340 ford f150(or fiesta, or what ever model has a higher burn rate). There would be fires all over major cities, the media would have a field day (remember the non-braking hybrid from toyota-that was a two week story)…yet this is the first I’ve heard and it..and now it has happened 7 times in two months. something is wrong with our math..because 1 in 680 sounds like a recall waiting to happen.

          • there have been massive recalls, not as big as the toyota recall… but it was a big story, and yes, cars are catching fire all over the place. including in NW DC this summer.

            the rest of your post i didn’t really understand.

          • I think you’re being contrainian for the hell of it. I think our numbers are way way there is a noncollison fire in 1 out 680 cars..that absurd. Lets use a bit of logic..if that shit was happening, consumer reports would have a bubble concerning likelyhood of fire.

            Also from google: “there were an estimated 254.4 million registered passenger vehicles in the United States according to a 2007 DOT study”..this is more likely. 1 in 2540.

            7 in NW DC in 2 months…That seems significant to me. If they investigate and find nothing, I’m fine with that. Are you ok with them not investigating and someone setting fires?

          • haha i agree that both our numbers are probably way wrong.

            no its great they are investigating, as they should… i’m just presenting the possibility that these are random and that actually cars do catch fire more than people think. especially cheap fords and cars that are not well maintained.

            maybe a little part of me is being contrary for the heck of it… but really i have experienced spontaneous combustion in a car that was parked for a week… nearly burned the house down. the fire fighters told us that it was one of the most common calls they get. so i just laugh when people make assumptions based on sketchy data… one guy said it should be investigated as a hate crime because he had an HRC bumper sticker on his car! that just kills me!

    • I posted basically the same thing yesterday. If you google “Mini Cooper engine fire” you will get a shocking number of results. As I said yesterday, though, most are older, MY2004-08, though the NHTSA safety complaint database also shows one report for MY2010 (which I suspect is from the Mini Cooper owner who emailed PoP).

      That said, I still think that the number of vehicle fires within just a few blocks in a relatively short period of time warrants an investigation.

  • I agree with the poster yesterday who suggested bringing this to the local media’s attention. And pressing the issue.

  • umm…. sources? I would have to take issue with the “cars catch fire randomly”. I dont hear of a bunch of cars randomly catching fire in MD or virginia. It seems highly concentrated in one area.

    • They don’t seem to catch fire too frequently in people’s back yard, or in parking garages, either.

    • maybe you will start paying attention now. set up a google alert.

      you want my source? Well… this website for one. I want your source on cars not catching fire.

      • “I want your source on cars not catching fire.”

        well now I know you’re not serious and just a troll. What an asinine comment. Why do you feel so strongly that these 7 events are random when it clearly calls for people to at least start asking questions?

        • no i wasn’t serious it was a joke. over your head though i guess.

          i just laugh when people jump to conclusions — and i am responding to several people who disagree with me.

  • Also, I dont have much faith in the DC fire dept. Remember all the dumpster fires on capital hill a couple years back? DC fire didnt care about that at first either

  • I wonder if we can create a citizen-driven tracking blog/etc where people can post pictures/locations of the car fires we see. Apparently there are are a lot more than most people know about, and having them listed in the same place might be interesting from a purely statistical viewpoint.

  • cars dont just catch fire on their own. Especially cars sitting at one place, turned off for for more than 7 hours.

    I can imagine a car that was on, with something wrong, and perhaps in 120 degree temperature blowing up, but a parked car at night is beyond my level of reasoning.

    And if there is any credibility to them catching fire on their own. I guess its time to recall minis, jeeps and now a ford. Because this is a major risk.

  • NBC4 is reporting that these incidents are being investigated as arson.

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