In short, the reader found that the fire department categorized the cause of many burned cars as "mechanical" rather than "arson," which the reader found disturbing. In this case, she'd had the car for 3 weeks and it had been parked for 6 hours before it burned.
It raises the question of whether these numerous car fires are being investigated properly: it seems fishy that so many cars in the neighborhood would just happen to burst into flames on their own. The reader also said a fire investigator told them that all the cars that have burned have had out-of-state plates.
Then again, maybe the fire investigators know best and there are just a lot of mechanical fires, but I'm not convinced.
Above are photos of the Mini and another neighbor's car found burned on Otis on Thursday, which was also deemed "mechanical." Here's the email:
On Sunday, September 26 my new 2010 Mini Cooper burst into flames at around 4:30 a.m.UPDATE: The reader also said she emailed MPD chief Cathy Lanier and Councilmember Jim Graham, and both responded and said they are following up on it.
I parked the car just down the block from my home at 9:30 pm on Saturday night. I parked it at 16th and Oak directly in front of 1523 Oak Street NW. When I passed by the car on Sunday around 1pm we found that the entire front of the car was destroyed (photo attached.) I spoke to the residents of 1523 and they told me that the noise and flames had woken them up around 4:30 a.m. at which point they called 911 and started throwing buckets of water on the car to try and stop the fire. The fire department and police came, put out the fire, and left.
Officer Richardson answered our call on Sunday afternoon, when my partner and I first discovered the damage to the car, and tried to help us track down a report number. At first, fire dispatch said there was no record of an incident at that time and location. Several phone calls later, she was able to talk to Investigator Ford at the Fire Investigation Unit who told her that a call was made at 4:47 am and Engine 11 (located at 14th and Newton) responded to the call and put out the fire. Investigator Ford said that he was at the scene at that time and called the fire mechanical, not arson. When pressed, he said that the fire on the 3600 block of 16th Street on August 25th which involved several vehicles was also mechanical.
I cannot accept that the cause of our car being incinerated was "mechanical". Our car is barely 3 weeks old and had been turned off and parked for roughly 6 hours prior to catching on fire. As I waited for an officer to respond to my call on Sunday afternoon, several community members mentioned cars being set on fire on neighboring streets, Otis, Kenyon, and Monroe in the past few weeks. One neighbor stopped and showed me a picture of his car which burned while parked on Otis Street this past Thursday and was also deemed "mechanical" (2nd attachment.) The damage to his car looked exactly like ours and also happened around 4 am. It is ridiculous that none of these incidents are being properly investigated.
The damage to our car is already done, but I am afraid that since the Fire Investigation Unit is not finding any of these fires suspicious, vehicles in the Columbia Heights area will continue to burn until one of them explodes and the fire spread to someone's home or a passerby is injured or worse.
Firefighters returned to our car this morning because someone called to say that gas was leaking down the street. When we spoke with them they said that all the cars that have been burned have Maryland or Virginia tags. We're DC residents but bought our car in Maryland so it had MD temp tags.