12 On Your Side: Warming your vehicle could cause fires

By: Elizabeth Owens Email
By: Elizabeth Owens Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Jan. 16, 2012

AIKEN CTY., S.C. -- Steve Bigg of South Carolina Collision Center says he usually parks his tow truck outside of his home.

As a tow truck driver, he says he usually only has minutes to respond.

"We run a 24-hour towing business here out of the home," he said.

On Jan. 3, Bigg parked his diesel-fueled truck in front of his house and plugged in his block heater.

"It was going to go down to about 24 degrees that night," he remembered.

A block heater is a device used to keep diesel engines warm during cold weather.

Around 3 a.m., Bigg was awakened by an incredible noise.

"It was a very loud explosion," he said.

He says all he saw was fire outside.

"Just grabbed the water hose and got proactive and grabbed the water hose trying to keep he flames off of the home."

The fire destroyed his work truck and wife's car, badly damaged his children's trucks and burned the side of his home.

Firefighters told News 12 the engine block heater may have caused the fire but since they did not bring out an investigator, the official cause was ruled as "unknown."

Henry Crawn knows all things diesel, including block heaters.

"Anything electrical can be a potential fire, especially since they sit out in the weather," the owner of Motion Automotive said.

Crawn has no way of knowing if the block heater is responsible for causing the fire at Bigg's house but says its a good idea to occasionally inspect the wiring connected to it.

"When you are inspecting the wire, you are looking for any cracks or breaks in the wire itself," he said.

He also recommends plugging block heaters into a GFCI outlet and to use a heavy extension cord.

Crawn says block heater fires are very rare but it's always good to practice prevention.

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