RACINE — Ironically, January’s cold and snow has resulted in more cars than usual reportedly catching fire, according to the Racine Fire Department, and Fire Prevention Division Chief Jeff Perkins thinks he knows why.
Perkins said that oftentimes, when someone’s car is stuck, frustrated drivers will put the pedal to the metal in an attempt to get their tires out of a rut. By doing that, the vehicle’s engine heats up significantly. But if the car doesn’t get out of its entrapment, then sometimes the driver will give up and turn their car off.
The problem is that, after heating up the engine very quickly and then immediately shutting it off, the engine will remain very hot and there won’t be any more coolant running through it.
“(When you) floor it, you’re really pushing the engine and generating a lot of heat,” Perkins said. “Then they cut the car off, but you don’t have antifreeze running through the engine anymore.”
Without the coolant/antifreeze to combat overheating, a fire could start.
If you find yourself stuck in the snow, Perkins suggests letting your car rest before taking the key out of the ignition.
“Let it run for a few minutes,” he said. “It gets the car down to a more normal running temperature.”
Safely heating your residence
Another problem Perkins says often arises this time of year is people using unsafe strategies and machines to keep themselves warm indoors.
Some of his tips are relatively obvious, like keeping space heaters away from anything that could catch fire (such as blankets or clothes) and never letting candles burn without supervision. But Perkins also warned that using outdoor space heaters indoors can be potentially deadly.
Outdoor space heaters are not necessarily more likely to start a fire than one designed for indoor use, but they do require extra ventilation that cannot be provided indoors. When they are allowed to run inside, where there is significantly less airflow, they can end up creating too much carbon monoxide.
Perkins said it’s totally OK to use indoor space heaters safely and to maybe bump up your thermostat a degree or two, but don’t rely on your stove or oven to generate warmth.