Accident Or Arson? Fire Inspector Explains How They Make The Determination

Nine Vehicles Have Been Damaged By Fire Since Sunday, Two Have Been Ruled Arson

Sioux Falls Fire investigators have been busy after several car fires in less than a week. At least nine vehicles have been damaged since Sunday. Some of them were no accident. Two of the vehicle fires have been declared arson, while the cause of the others are still under investigation. KDLT’s Jill Johnson tells us how fire inspectors make those determinations.

The most recent incident happened at around 3:30 a.m. Friday on Falcon Place, where three cars were destroyed by fire. Sioux Falls Fire Investigator John Wagner believes the fire likely began in the engine compartment of the small truck. While the victims believe the fire is suspicious, Wagner says they have yet to determine the cause.

Wagner said, “The pickup truck in the center was basically burned down to the frame from bumper to bumper. The vehicles on either side of it had damage to the sides of the vehicle next to the one that burned and some interior damage as some of the flames reached the windows.”

Four other vehicles were damaged in the parking lot of the Lewis Drug near 26th Street and Sycamore Avenue Tuesday afternoon after one of them started on fire. We still don’t know how that one started.

Wagner says sometimes car fires happen in spurts, and it’s not uncommon for them to respond to several a day.

“It might be quiet for awhile so it could be coincidence or it could be just kind of a random act,” said Wagner.

Investigators believe two vehicle fires on the southwest side of town Sunday morning were intentionally set. They occurred just blocks away from one another and within hours of each other leading authorities to believe that they’re connected. A truck near West Bakker Park Drive and Holbrook Avenue was destroyed at around 2:30 a.m. Police say just after 9 a.m., they responded to another car fire on West 53rd Street near Bluestem Street.  Police say the car’s interior was lit on fire, and they found a plastic gas container near the vehicle.

Wagner says when they investigate these fires, they first try to find out if there were any problems with the vehicle, including if there were any recalls.

Wagner said, “It could be something like an improperly installed stereo that they put in and wired it wrong or they had someone fix their car yesterday or they had a slight fuel leak and were going to get it taken care of tomorrow. We’ll the fuel leak caused a fire today.”

He says a majority of vehicles fires start in the engine compartment because of all the fuels, oils, mechanical and electrical items and spread from there. Wagner says with all of the foam and carpeting inside, once a fire spreads to the interior of a vehicle, it can quickly burn down to its frame.

“The plastic is also going to add to that heat. It can be a really black, dark fire and if unchecked, it can basically burn the car down to the frame,” Wagner said.

If they don’t have any potential causes, Wagners says they look at if anyone may have tried to break into the vehicle and cover up a theft or destroy evidence. He says a majority of arsons happen at night. He says they always look at the possibility of arson, but also try to keep an open mind.

The best way to protect your car? He says keep it locked up and well maintained.

Wagner said, “Even if you maintain it like you’re supposed to, things can go wrong.”


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