car on fireEnlarge Photo
Preliminary conclusions from the investigation into a Mooresville, North Carolina, house fire that destroyed a Chevrolet Volt indicate the fire did not start in the vehicle, but elsewhere, and progressed to engulf the electric car.
Iredell County chief deputy fire marshal Garland Cloer told GreenCarReports in an exclusive interview that, "the source of ignition seems to be from outside the area of the vehicles."
Shared preliminary conclusion
Cloer noted that his conclusion was preliminary, but he noted that his assessment was shared by "some of the other investigators" on the scene, who included representatives from Nissan, Chevrolet, Siemens, Duke Energy, and the homeowner's insurance company.
The 2011 Chevrolet Volt was plugged into a Siemens 240-Volt recharging station in the garage at the time of the fire. Much media coverage focused on the possibility that the extended-range electric car or its charging system could be at fault.
Two cars and a lot more
The North Carolina fire started in the three-bay garage of the house on Cades Cove Lane in Mooresville. That structure contained the Volt in the first bay, a 2007 Nissan Armada full-size sport-utility vehicle in the second bay, and a collection of miscellaneous objects in the third bay.
2011 Chevrolet Volt charging portEnlarge Photo
Those objects included childrens' electric plug-in cars, various stored household items, gasoline, and other hazardous materials.
While large, the size of the garage was appropriate for the $1.5 million house, which covered a total of 5,700 square feet, according to Cloer. Local news reports placed the total damage to the house and garage at $800,000.
Fire progressed "to the vehicles"
"Fires take certain patterns," Cloer said, often a "V-shaped pattern that spreads out from the point of origin" that can be determined from the points where the flames have burned most intensely.
The fire pattern seen in this case "seems to have progressed to the vehicles" from elsewhere in the garage, Cloer said, which would indicate that neither the Volt nor the Armada was the source of ignition.
2011 Chevrolet Volt 240V charging stationEnlarge Photo
Second-story room collapses into garage
The fire erupted on Sunday, October 30, but after the fire was extinguished and the scene was controlled, it took the county team several days to assess the building and remove debris to reach the ground floor of the garage.
The structure included not only the three bays but a "bonus room" with dormer windows above. The floor of that second-story room had collapsed into the garage, Cloer said, requiring its roof and floor structure to be cut into pieces and removed once they had been inspected and deemed not relevant to the investigation.
After that, the unstable front wall had to be removed as well before the various team members could safely gain access to the ground floor of the former garage.
Close inspection and analysis of the three bays started in earnest this past Tuesday with GM and Siemens on hand. A Nissan representative arrived Wednesday.
Volt not gutted
Once the Chevrolet Volt had been stabilized by GM technicians and removed, the team inspected the damage to the car.
In looking at vehicles that have caught fire, Cloer said, "seats, carpets, even rubber hoses, are not usually left intact" when a fire starts inside a car. But that was what they found in the Volt, along with a pattern that suggested the fire that engulfed it spread from the front to the rear of the car.