Keeping safety in mind when plugging in vehicles this winter

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Preventing vehicle fires
WATCH ABOVE: Cold weather means plugging in the block heater, but there are precautions to take to ensure your vehicle doesn’t go up in flames – Jan 25, 2016

SASKATOON – The Saskatoon Fire Department’s safety theme for January is preventing vehicle fires. When cold temperatures set in, cars, trucks and vans are being plugged in to help with start-up.

On Jan. 18, one car fire spread to a local apartment balcony before it was put up by firefighters.

READ MORE: Flames from vehicle spread to balcony of Saskatoon apartment

“We experienced a fire in a car caused by a block heater and of course this time of year you’re going to be plugging in your vehicles and it’s something that you don’t give a lot of thought to and so it can just get forgotten and occasionally you get a failure like what happened the other week,” Chief Dave Bykowy said on Monday.

During winter, Bykowy said many vehicle fires are the result of worn extension and block heater cords. When there is no longer a good connection or cords are damaged, this can result in electrical arching and fire in the engine compartment.

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“Cars are amazing combustible … they burn incredibly hot, sometimes hotter than house fires burn. Just with all the plastics in vehicles, there’s a lot of fuel there,” Bykowy said.

Motorists are reminded to check cords to make sure they are not cracked or frayed and not to drive over extension cords. Damaged components should be replaced.

Another reminder is to make sure you don’t accidentally driving away while the vehicle is still plugged in. This can cause damage to the extension cord, block heater cord and plug.

“All block heaters really are very safe, they’re built right into the block of the engine, it’s the power cords that feed them that get neglected or the extension cord that we’re using to power is not matched for the appliance,” Bykowy said.

“Block heaters can run from 100 to 1,500 watts and so you need to kind of have a bit of an idea of what the appliance is going to draw so that the wire that you’re using to feed the electricity to it actually has that kind of carrying capacity.”

Officials recommend using a three-wire, three-pronged extension cord that is rated for the outdoors to plug in block heaters.

“Often times [these fires] will be some kind of an electrical fault with vehicles, it is low voltage, so they start slowly but if at all possible if you’re mechanically inclined and if there is no fire just some smoke … if you can disconnect your battery that goes a long way but still it’s difficult,” Bykowy said.
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