A hybrid electric car smouldering in a blaze. Video / Stewart Harris
This is the moment a hybrid-electric car burst into flames on an Auckland street.
Stewart Harris escaped the blaze with his three dogs, pulling over after smelling petrol and seeing smoke seep from the bonnet on Normanby Rd, Mt Eden.
“She’s a goner,” Harris said, disappointed to lose his “quite special” Mercedes Benz C-350-E.
“I chose that car, particularly because the upholstery was a pale grey which matches the dogs.”
Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) sent two appliances to the smouldering vehicle after receiving reports of a car fire about 9.20am.
Harris said: “The fire brigade was very interested, they told me it’s not that common for hybrids to catch fire.
“So they don’t know much about these cars. They asked ‘How do you open the bonnet?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, what would I open the bonnet for – that’s what the mechanic does’.”
Fire investigator Colin Melville told Newshub hybrid car fires could be extremely dangerous and were an increasing concern as their numbers increased on the country’s roads.
“The hazard of these types of motor vehicles, being a hybrid, we can have what we call ‘thermal runaway’ where the large batteries can overheat and potentially explode – which creates a hazard for firefighting personnel and also a risk of potential reignition – making it very difficult for us to extinguish,” he told Newshub.
Melville said Fenz was upskilling its staff to deal with the hazards and risks of hybrid vehicles.
In a turn of fate, office workers from nearby Direct Control had fire extinguishers on hand before Fenz arrived.
“They had a big box of fire extinguishers. They used three extinguishers to no avail.”
Harris said there was difficulty towing the car, given the dangers of battery fires,
“They were not sure if the line between the engine and battery was still live. They were asking ‘How do we save all of the batteries?
“But I’m not that familiar with hybrid cars, but we just put in a new battery last week after an issue with the transmission. I didn’t know anything about cars.”
Harris said he realised something was amiss when he smelt petrol while he was driving, and even more when he saw smoke escape from under the bonnet.
“For probably about a minute before I pulled over, it was smoking – not heavily, it was more like steam. I thought it was overheating.”
“So I got the dogs out first and their cushions – I tried to set them up in the carpark
and I went back in to retrieve personal stuff. It was getting a bit smoky by then, and I’d been in a car fire in Italy when it blew up, so I knew not to be near it.”
Harris remained stoic throughout the ordeal – however, he admitted he was surprised and unsure of what to do.
“Well, who do I ring? – The garage, fire brigade, or my assistant?”