UPDATED: Who Knew a Single Garage Fire Could Spark So Much Electric Car Bashing?

By · April 18, 2011

Chevy Volt garage fire Connecticut

A Chevy Volt and an all-electric converted Suzuki Samurai are the victims of a garage fire. Did they spark it? Does it even matter?

I've been saying for years now—quite literally, in fact—that once the crop of modern electric cars starts to hit the road in any kind of serious numbers (e.g. right now), the naysayers and anti-EV zealots will come out in droves looking for anything—and I do mean anything—to prove that EVs are a bad idea.

There are, of course, dozens of myths that are old stand-bys for that crowd. I particularly like reading the ones about how electric cars will leave you and your baby stranded for dead in the middle of the desert.

Now that gas prices are so high (again) and we've been through two wars (still fighting, technically) plus a new third "not-war" war, as well as living through the worst oil spill in the history of the world, those organizations and individuals—perhaps seeing their support crumbling for the last time—have begun to grasp at anything and everything they can in defense of their increasingly ridiculous-sounding arguments.

But a garage fire? Seriously?

In case you missed it, last week news broke that a Connecticut family's two electric cars—a Chevy Volt and converted Suzuki Samurai—were burned to the ground in a massive garage fire. While firefighters and investigators are still saying it's far too early to tell what caused the fire, headlines began cropping up along the lines of "Electric Cars Suspected in Garage Fire." The UK's Daily Mail even ran a story "So much for carbon footprint: Green driver's hybrid cars may have sparked garage fire."

Electric cars will burn you and your baby to a crisp in your sleep. Gotta add that one to my list of myths. As GM spokesperson, Rob Peterson, told GM-Volt.com, "You can already see some of the right wing pundits lining up, trying to take their jabs without even waiting to hear from the fire marshal."

Granted, there is the possibility that the charging cars did somehow contribute to the fire. We'll know for sure once the investigation's done. But that's not the point.

I can tell you right now that charging electric cars is no less safe than running a dryer in your garage. In other words, it's as safe as the electrician you use to install the equipment. It's as safe as the wiring in your house. It's as safe as all the rest of the electrical risks you take on a daily basis. It's as safe as that homegrown electric conversion you've got plugged into the wall next to your Chevy Volt. I'm not trying to assign blame to the conversion, I'm just saying it also poses a risk.

Certainly the electric cars could have contributed to the fire, but the point is that any kind of electrical device can contribute to a fire. It's the risk of electricity. It's a risk all of us take on a daily basis. But the risk of electrical fire from anything is very small—which is why most people spend most days of their lives not even thinking about these things.

Fifty years from now I'm sure I'll look back and still not understand why some people were so against electric cars to the point of hatred—in my mind it's just another choice for the consumer and what's so bad about that? But at least right now the arguments against them are becoming ever more hilarious to follow.

Too bad some people will take the instantaneous opinions for the truth and by the time the actual investigative results come out will have long forgotten to care about it.

UPDATE (4/19/2011): GM now says they have preliminary results from their investigation that indicate neither the battery of the Volt or the charging cordset of the Volt started the fire. It does appear that the battery, when damaged by the fire, combusted again five days after the damage. If this is accurate then it represents an unknown risk that battery car owners and emergency personnel should be aware of after a vehicle's batteries are damaged.

From GM's Volt blog:

"While the Volt's battery pack sustained damage, it was not extensive enough or of the type that would suggest that it caused the fire. In addition, there is clear evidence based on moderate damage to the cordset and charging system that neither component caused the fire."

"The vehicles had been left in the garage for investigators and insurers to review when a second incident occurred earlier today. Smoke was seen coming from the damaged Volt and the fire department responded quickly. We continue to support the department in its investigation, sending our experts back to Connecticut to continue working with fire marshals. "

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