What to Do if an Explosion or Fire Occurs After a Car Accident
The smell of smoke can herald disaster following a car crash. You may feel disoriented, confused, and fearful. Worse, you may have little idea of what to do next. You know you should get out of the vehicle, but what steps should you take to protect yourself, bystanders, and others who may have to share the road with you until a wrecker can clear the damaged vehicles away?
Car fires happen in a relatively small percentage of car accidents, despite their prevalence in movies. However, around 170,000 vehicle fires occur in the United States each year. Knowing how to respond if your car bursts into flames or explodes can make a huge difference in your physical safety and that of others around you.
Potential Signs of Vehicle Fires
If you see flames emerging from anywhere in your vehicle, you know you need to act quickly.
However, you may also want to watch out for other warning signs that could signify a fire danger.
- You smell smoke.
- You see smoke, especially dark smoke, emerging from under the hood.
- You notice crackling or loose wiring.
- You see a fuel or oil spill around the vehicle.
- You see your engine temperature, fuel level, or oil levels changing abruptly following a collision, especially if your gauges indicate a serious problem
Reacting calmly but fast following any signs of a vehicle fire can protect you and the other occupants of your vehicle.
What to Do if You Notice a Vehicle Fire
You noticed a vehicle fire, and you need to act fast. Follow these steps to help protect yourself and others in the vehicle.
#1. Turn off the Ignition
Bring the vehicle to a full stop and turn off the ignition, which can help decrease some of the fuel supply to the source of the fire and decrease the risk of further problems. Put the vehicle in park so that it does not continue to roll, which could both make it more difficult to get out of the vehicle safely and increase the odds that your vehicle will cause further injuries to others in the area.
#2. Get Everyone out of the Vehicle
Try to move everyone out of the vehicle as quickly as possible. Assist small children and elderly or disabled individuals in removing their seatbelts and getting out fast. Seat belt cutters or sharp knives can assist in removing seat belts quickly, which may make it easier to get people out of the vehicle if something malfunctions.
#3. Move Away From the Vehicle
Move at least 100 feet away from the vehicle immediately if you notice any signs of flames or smoke. Engine fires may produce toxic fumes that could damage the passengers as badly as flames. Do not allow bystanders to approach the vehicle.
If possible, you may also want to move the other vehicle involved in the accident away from a burning vehicle. A collision that results in a car fire may cause such severe damage to the vehicle that it cannot move safely. However, if you can quickly signal the other driver to move away, and that driver can move away without placing himself or others in the area in more danger, preventing the second vehicle from involvement in the fire can help protect bystanders and those involved in the accident.
#4. Avoid Returning to the Vehicle for Any Reason
Opening the doors of a burning vehicle could supply a new oxygen source and allow the flames to burn higher, increasing the danger to everyone in the area. Furthermore, keep in mind that vehicles contain many substances that could ignite quickly- gasoline is at the top of the list.
Do not go near the vehicle after exiting it. Stay far back. You and your passengers can replace any items left in the vehicle, but you may not replace lives lost or health destroyed by an explosion.
#5. Call 911 Immediately
As soon as you have exited the vehicle, call 911 and report the incident to dispatch. If you think bystanders have already called, or a bystander reports calling 911 on your behalf, make sure the caller reported the risk of fire to dispatch, since a fire may require a response by trained firefighters and may necessitate a faster response on the part of emergency personnel. Knowledge of the fire risk can help dispatch decide how to move forward with your accident more effectively.
Do not attempt to put out the flames yourself. Car fires can burn very hot and pose an immense danger to everyone around you, and steps like opening the door or trying to open the hood can cause the flames to flare hotter and higher. You may place yourself in greater danger. Instead, wait for the fire department to arrive and allow them to sort out the next steps.
#6. Apply First Aid, If Needed
Fire can spread fast, resulting in serious burns as you try to exit the vehicle. You may also have other injuries from the accident, many of which may need medical attention. Calling 911 will bring an ambulance to the scene, and many police officers and firefighters also have basic first aid capability.
However, while you wait for help to arrive, you can take some steps to help alleviate pain or provide immediate treatment for some of those injuries.
- Apply clean, cold compresses to burns to help alleviate immediate pain. Do not submerge large, severe burns in water. That could lead to a loss of body heat. You should make sure that you use a clean water source: nearby lakes or rivers, for example, could pose an additional danger of infection.
- Remove restrictive items from the victim. If you can remove jewelry or tight items like belts from the burned area, do so as soon as possible, since burns can swell quickly. Restriction can cause further pain.
- Elevate the burned area of the body above the heart, if possible. Encourage people with burned limbs to sit down and keep the burned area elevated.
Watch for signs of shock in any injured party, whether that party suffered burns or another serious injury. If you notice confusion and disorientation, changes in skin color or temperature, nausea and vomiting, elevation in pulse and breathing, or dizziness, encourage that person to sit down and wait for medical attention to arrive. Direct first responders to that party so they can provide more extensive first aid as they arrive.
#7. Notify Other Drivers
Ideally, other drivers should not go through the area immediately around a burning vehicle, since a burning vehicle could explode without warning. Other drivers may face immense danger if they fail to keep their distance from a burning vehicle.
Notify drivers about the issue, if possible. Do not put yourself in danger by stepping into traffic to warn other drivers or direct traffic. Setting up flares or putting on emergency flashers in a non-involved vehicle can alleviate the danger.
#7. Follow Instructions
As first responders arrive at the accident scene, they may issue instructions to can keep the scene as safe as possible. First responders may direct you to move further from the scene or take specific steps to provide first aid. Follow all instructions given to you by a first responder, since those instructions could prove vital to your safety, especially if a car catches on fire or explodes after an accident.
First responders, including EMTs, may also provide vital instructions about caring for your injuries. Failure to follow those instructions could result in more severe injuries or cause you to suffer additional injuries. Make sure you follow those instructions to the letter.
Do not deny medical care at the scene of the accident. If you inhaled any toxic fumes from a burning vehicle or received burns, medical care can alleviate further symptoms and make it easier for you to manage your recovery. That medical care can also serve to establish exactly when your injuries took place for a later personal injury claim.
#8. Collect Evidence and Information
Any time a fire breaks out at the scene of an accident, you need to prioritize safety over anything else. Making safety your top priority can help you decrease the risk of further injury.
However, if you can safely collect evidence and information at the scene, that can later make it easier for you to move forward with a car accident claim.
You may, for example, want to:
- Take photos of the scene of the accident. You may want to show pictures of the burning vehicle and the other vehicle. Try to capture the other vehicle’s license plate and, if possible, make and model. Do not move closer than 100 feet to the burning vehicle to capture photos.
- Get the other driver’s license and insurance information. If the driver’s license or insurance card remains in the vehicle, neither party should approach it. The police can collect that vital information and give you more information about how to obtain it.
- Collect information from witnesses so that you can contact them later. Witnesses may offer more insight into exactly what led to the accident, since they may have had a better view of the accident scene in its entirety.
When the police arrive at the accident scene, they will also collect witness contact information and insurance information from both drivers. Never place yourself in danger or do anything that might worsen injuries to collect that information.
#9. Get Medical Care
First responders, including EMTs, may have to prioritize providing medical care to the most severely injured patients at the scene of a serious accident. Even if you think you suffered only minor injuries, make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that you may have inhaled toxic fumes from the burning car or that you may have suffered more serious injuries than you think: injuries that may start to show themselves as adrenaline from the accident fades. A medical care provider can evaluate the full extent of your injuries and give you a better idea of your best “next steps” in pursuing care.
#10. Contact a Lawyer
Vehicle accidents that involve car fires and explosions often involve substantial injuries. With those injuries come considerable medical expenses and immense financial losses. If you suffer injuries in a vehicle accident, including one that results in a fire or explosion, a lawyer can help you move through your claim, calculating the compensation you deserve, acquiring evidence related to the accident, and negotiating with the insurance company to secure a settlement that reflects your actual needs and losses.
Do You Need a Lawyer After a Car Fire or Explosion?
If you suffered injuries in an accident involving a car fire or explosion, a car accident lawyer can help. Do not try to handle your car accident claim on your own. Instead, contact a lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about your right to compensation and your next steps in moving forward with a personal injury claim.
I represent individuals in Missouri and Illinois in all types of personal injury cases. In my short time here I have obtained a judgment for $2.5 million and settled a large class action lawsuit for a confidential amount.
I love the city of St. Louis and support it and give back whenever I can. Recently I was appointed by Mayor Francis Slay to serve on the Advisory Board for the Gateway Mall.
I am married to my lovely wife Lauren and we have two beautiful daughters, Mia and Bridget.