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Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Some time back in Dec 09 there was a news item of car going up in flames on GST road, near Chennai Airport. This had come to the airport for pick up but went up in flames. A case of self-ignition ; a peril covered under Motor Comprehensive policy.

Automobiles contains many types flammable materials, including flammable liquids like petrol and oil as well as solid combustibles such as upholstery. Fuel leaks from ruptured fuel lines also can rapidly ignite. An automobile has multiple potential sources of ignition including electrical devices that may short circuits, hot exhaust systems, and modern car devices such as air bag detonators. The car batteries also pose unique hazard.
A vehicle fire is not very common but once in a while there are reports of undesired conflagration / uncontrolled burning. When there is fire the obvious materials that burn are the wiring insulation, plastic and polymer materials, fibre glass, hydrocarbon fluids, rubber tyres etc.,
For a fire to occur there should be :
• Some material heated to its ignition temperature.
• adequate supply of oxygen (air).
• propagation path for the fire.

In the city of Chennai, of late vehicles going up in flames have been reported sporadically and this Monday morning (25/1/10) seven 2 wheelers parked in an apartment close to Sri Parthasarathi temple went up in flames.

The vehicles were completely gutted. The flames went so high that the walls were blackened and soot marks were visible everywhere on the three storey building. The gutted vehicles were removed immediately to avoid media glare. Police sources stated that the fire was sparked off by a short circuit in electric motor. It was reported that the residents had dumped waste papers near the motor and the vehicles were parked close to the motor. A spark due to a fluctuation in power could have ignited the papers and the fire could have spread to the vehicles, the police said.

The residents tried dousing the flame with sand and water and Fire service was also alerted but vehicles were gutted.

In a similar incident during Dec 2009, four vehicles, including a lorry, in the Whites Road area were damaged in fire – though the damages were somewhat restrained.  Many such incidents were reported in the areas of Kodambakkam, Vadapalani and North Chennai.

Quite often the short circuit is stated to be the cause of all fire incidents where the exact cause could not be zeroed in. But when this happens, the electricity supply gets stopped and there would not be lights or other appliances functioning. A short circuit is an abnormal low-resistance connection between two nodes of an electrical circuit that are meant to be at different voltages. This results in an excessive electric current of the rest of the network and potentially causes circuit damage, overheating, fire or explosion.

The cause of loss could also be malicious / arson. Arson is the crime of deliberately and maliciously setting fire to structures. There also a theory that this could be the handiwork of mendicants or deranged persons who freely roam around in the city. Some sources also say that these people get kick (another form of alcoholism) by smelling the petrol contained in the tanks and if they are also smoking a beedi or cigarette, the hazard is all the more dangerous.

Ensure that your place is free from all such hazards.

Regards – Sampathkumar S


  1. Does the normal insurance of two-wheelers cover damage due to arson? thanks in advance - kannan

  2. It is not so named but the comprehensive policy does cover Fire, self ignition, riot strike and malicious activity. - Sampath

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