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Limo fire that killed bride puzzles experts

The limo fire in the San Francisco Bay Area, which killed five women, doesn't fit the usual patterns of vehicle fires. Moreover, the limo fire comes as the number of vehicle fires is declining.

By Correspondent / May 6, 2013

San Mateo County firefighters and California Highway Patrol personnel investigate the scene of a limo fire on the westbound side of the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge in Foster City, Calif., on Saturday.

Jane Tyska/Oakland Tribune-Bay Area News Group/AP

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The number of highway vehicle fires has been decreasing since the 1980s, but the limousine fire near San Francisco Saturday shows the need for passengers to know what to do during such an incident, fire experts say.

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The limousine that broke out in flames, killing five women and injuring four more, was carrying one too many passengers, California Highway Patrol Capt. Mike Maskarich said during a press conference Monday. The vehicle was crossing the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge when the rear end of the vehicle caught fire. The passengers could not exit the car doors because of the flames, and the driver was able to help four survivors escape through the partition window. Investigators have not determined a cause.

“It’s an anomaly within our business that people would die in a vehicle without a crash and being trapped with no exit choice,” says Ron Moore, a vehicle rescue expert. In his 32-year career as a firefighter and fire rescue trainer, he has not seen a limousine fire like this.

“Normally, fires start in the engine, so you have a more controlled situation,” he says. Only 4 percent of vehicle fires originate in the trunk or cargo area, according to a report by the US Fire Administration released in January, compared with 61 percent of fires that start in the engine area, running gear, or wheel area.

During his fire safety training, Mr. Moore tells everyone that during a vehicle fire, “there is only time to do the right thing once.” Passengers should have a plan of what to do before they get in the vehicle.

His safety suggestions are similar to recommendations provided by the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) and the US Fire Administration:

  • As soon as you sense something is wrong, or smell burning plastic, pull the car over and turn off the ignition.
  • Get out and move away from the vehicle – uphill and upwind, if possible – and maintain a distance of more than 100 feet.
  • Do not try to extinguish the fire yourself, but call 911 and wait for the fire department.
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