Dozens of vehicle fires in IL & IA, trooper wants to see numbers drop

Local News

Illinois troopers report about 30 car fires this year, Iowa reports about 115

An Illinois State Trooper says he’d like to see the number of car and truck fires drop.

Footage of one fire Local 4 News covered near Colona last week shows smoke blowing several feet high.

Nobody was hurt.

We decided to dig deeper.

It turns out Illinois has seen about 30 car and truck fires so far this year.

There have been about 115 in Iowa.

Local 4’s Tahera Rahman investigates what causes a lot of them.

“The average trooper’s probably going to be responding to four our five of those every year just out in this general area. That could be anything from just smoking breaks all the way to fully engulfed,” says Jason Wilson, Illinois State Police District 7 trooper.

He says a response could take anywhere from 15 minutes to 15 hours.

The source, Wilson says, is usually an equipment malfunction.

Something John Sturdivant and his wife, Betty, have seen on the road during their 14 years of driving together.

“We’ve seen one one time that a guy’s oil line going to his turbo busted and caught on fire. So we stopped and helped him put that out,” Sturdivant says.

The summer presents additional challenges, he says.

“With the heat out here, your asphalt, your concrete heats up, your tires heat up and very easily they could blowout, catch on fire,” Sturdivant says.

He says company checks are key.

“That could cause a difference between a fire and not a fire.”

On top of those, he and his wife inspect their own truck before and after every trip.

“We have to do a walk-around on the truck, trailer, tilt the hood,” Sturdivant says.

“This right here is the turbo,” he says as he points to a cylinder under the hood.

“This can get red hot. I mean, beet-red hot. So again, you have to check all these little clamps,” he says.

John’s truck is only three weeks old and comes with new technology like front and side sensors and a windshield camera.

“I start to weave over this line, that’s going to set an alarm off inside the truck,” he explains.

But even with all of that, he says you can never be too careful.

“It’s always a factor in your mind, you always think about that,” he says.

“I consider myself really lucky it hasn’t happened in 14 years.”

A mindset Trooper Wilson is on board with.

“You can’t predict what’s going to happen on the roadway, just what you’ve done to prepare for it,” Wilson says.

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Wilson says drivers will often hear a pop and start losing power without knowing why.

That could indicate the start of a car fire.

If you find yourself in the situation, he says, don’t panic.

“Just get you and your loved ones out and then past that, we’re not worried about property,” Wilson says.

“Most of the time the fires that you see in the movies are much different than what happens in real life, they don’t just explode in a huge fireball. It’s usually a slow rolling type of fire, so you have plenty of time to get away from the scene.”

Wilson says once you’re at a safe distance, then it’s time to call 911.

And to prevent a car fire: “The biggest thing would be just to make sure the vehicles are in well maintained working order that could be from just a regular car all the way up through a commercial motor vehicle or the big trucks,” Wilson says.

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