Officials warn of vehicle fire dangers after several go up in flames in Piedmont Triad

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- It was an ordinary drive down North Patterson Avenue in Winston-Salem for Lamont Fowler Friday morning. That is, until a fellow driver alerted him that his SUV was on fire.

“It was cruising, wasn’t making no noises, nothing,” Fowler said. “I got out, looked up under there and it was on fire.”

As he and his cousin retreated to a nearby parking lot, the flames overtook his 2004 Buick Rendezvous, until the gas tank caught fire.

“The whole car just exploded man, just blew up,” Fowler said.

Firefighters arrived and put out the flames within four minutes. But, Fowler’s experience highlights an ongoing issue both on small and large scales.

“If I wouldn’t have gotten out of that car, then I wouldn’t be here to tell you about this,” he said.

On Tuesday, a woman was driving on I-40 in Clemmons when her SUV – also a 2004 Buick Rendezvous – caught fire, according to the Clemmons Fire Department.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2004 Buick Rendezvous has had five recalls; two for fuel tank inlet check valve welds and another for aftermarket fuel pressure regulators. All three of these recalls could result in a fire, the NHTSA website says.

“It’s a piece of burnt charcoal, [it isn’t worth anything] now,” Fowler said.

However, we’ve seen several other vehicle fires in North Carolina and the Piedmont Triad of late. One, on I-85 on June 13, another on June 19 at a Burger King in Greensboro, a van caught fire on U.S. 311 on June 22 and 11 vehicles became engulfed in flames at Carowinds, also on the 22nd.

Winston-Salem Fire Department Assistant Chief Tad Byrum says it’s not uncommon to have a streak of car fires. In the summer months, vehicles work harder to supply air conditioning, and if they’re not properly maintained, the chance of a vehicle fire increases.

Byrum added that batteries also tend to fail as temperatures rise.

Most of the fires, Byrum says, are due to something in the fuel system or the engine itself. The next common causes are electrical issues.

Byrum says, while most vehicle fires occur when the vehicle is running, they can also happen when a vehicle is turned off.

On July 18, two vehicles caught fire in the early morning at an apartment complex in Winston-Salem. The cause of that fire is still under investigation, Byrum says.

Byrum says it’s important to make sure your vehicle is meeting manufacturer specifications before any long trips. Make sure the oil’s been changed, and if you have any concerns, a reputable mechanic should be able to spot any problems.​