Monday, September 27, 2010

Car fires in the neighborhood: not being properly investigated?

Car fires are unfortunately fairly common in the neighborhood, especially in the northern sections -- I've written about them numerous times before. Today I received an email from a reader whose new Mini Cooper, seen above, was found burned early yesterday morning. It's the first time I've actually heard from a person whose car has burned.

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.

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.
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.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good post. I'll be curious to see if anything happens with this.

beatledud said...

This is nuts! I confronted Jim Graham 2 weeks ago at Adams Morgan Festival. He had little knowledge of the details of what exactly happened on 16th St.

Meanwhile, my wife recalls walking by a car fire on the Newton, although it could have been Monroe. She believed it was an open top Jeep.

I live in front of the fires that happened on 16th and reported the event to this blog. There were two calls for fires at that time, so unless one of the mopeds caught fire, ignited two neighboring mopeds, was extinguished by the Fire Department, then 30 minutes later, reignited itself, caught a neighboring car, THEN jumped across to the other side of the street and caught ANOTHER car on fire, this sure as hell wasn't mechanical.

Anonymous said...

interesting. i thought these were all insurance scams and it seems like that's what fire department/cops are implying mentioning out-of-state tags. this is clearly not the case in this incident. does columbia heights have an arsonist on the loose? keep on it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this excellent article! I've been searching for coverage on this issue.

I am a very concerned resident of the neighborhood. I thought cars being lit on fire is something you see in the movies or in third world countries not right in my neighborhood! Apparently, I am wrong!

Obviously, an arsonist is behind all this, and I hope this manner is taken more seriously. If this happens again and the fire spreads throughout the car it can explode. The explosion can cause further damage and people can get hurt.

My deepest regrets to the owners of these two cars. I am really sorry for all your stress and ruined cars. However, let's be happy that no person has gotten hurt from these two fires. And let's hope that the authorities get serious about finding out who is behind all this!

Anonymous said...

and i saw a burnt out car on monroe between 16th and 14th last week...

Anonymous said...

they report them as mechanical so they don't show up as a crime statistic.

Chris Connelly said...

It is worth acknowledging, though, that Mini Coopers do have a well documented issue with seemingly spontaneous engine bay fires:

http://www.northamericanmotoring.com/forums/stock-problems-issues/73527-spontaneous-engine-bay-fires.html

It doesn't mean that there isn't an arsonist or something else going on in the neighborhood - but it does mean that the fire related to this Mini could be explained mechanically.

mini owner said...

The only records I've been able to find of minis with engine fires are all the 2005 model. And they were running or had just been turned off when they caught on fire. Ours is a 2010 model that had been parked for 6 hours prior to catching on fire. Thanks to Chief Lanier's involvement, we're starting to see some response from police and fire investigators. Hopefully some good can come of all this!

Anonymous said...

Lol @ the idea that these are spontaneous mechanical problems. Get real people.

Anonymous said...

I witnessed a fire around 9pm on park and hiatt st... a few blocks away. This was on April 22, 2010.

It was a cop car on fire, and I have pictures to document. I live near 16th and Oak, and have noticed other vehicles that have caught fire since that time. I doubt these are ALL mechanical related.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Thanks for alerting everyone to this. Our car experienced a fire that was definitely mechanical early this year, so not every fire classified as mechanical is false, but how disturbing that so many seem to be. What's the point of having a fire inspector if they just write down an answer without even doing any inspecting?

Anonymous said...

I can think of a certain cream-colored VW convertible bug that I would like to catch on fire!

If this had been happening in one of the more suburban wards, I might go along with the insurance thing (for some of them anyway)... but who in their right mind would try and find parking in Ward One only to catch their car on fire?! No, I would say this is some sort of twisted DC vigilanty justice.

Anonymous said...

I live close to where the Jeep was burned on Monroe and I watched it blow up--after it was already on fire. The word we got from the fire fighters was that "several cars have been set of fire tonight" SET ON FIRE being the important statement here....

1426ri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

About a month ago, on 16th St. NW, between Oak St. & Spring (Close to the Woodner), 3 motorcyles or mopeds were found burned just like the cars.

These can't all be mechanical problems.

Anonymous said...

That block where the mini was on fire has a very high crime rate, particularly car break ins that result in glass all over the street and side walk. Its time for a camera.

Andrew said...

Anon @ 2:20 pm, I wrote about those and other burnings too, they're linked in the beginning of the post.

Brad said...

Andrew -- I saw a little chatter on Prince of Petworth about most of these cars having HRC bumper sticker and/or gay owners. Obviously, this would totally change the story if true. Are you able to confirm with any of the victims?

Anonymous said...

i can confirm the HRC thing for at least 1

Anonymous said...

how do I email the author of this post? I have pictures.

Andrew said...

Brad, I'm looking into it. Most recent anon, newcolumbiaheights@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

I saw the Mini Cooper on my way home from Mt Pleasant day. As I stopped to take in the magnitude of the damage, I overheard one of the the women (who I am guessing is the owner who wrote the email) standing by the car tell another passerby that the fire department said it was mechanical.
I was in shock. If this was mechanical Mini Cooper better have a recall planned. But, knowing the history of car fires in the area and seeing the extensive damage for myself, I am convinced this was arson. The front wheel on the driver's side was melted into the pavement! Something fishy seems to be going on with the DC fire department. What are they trying to cover up?
In response to previous comments, I don't recall if there was an HRC sticker - or any other identifier of gay(friendly) ownership - but I took my boyfriend out to see the car later that night and he snapped some pics on his phone, so I'll check. The one thing that did stand out to me was that the car was brand new to the owner. It still had the temporary license in the rear window - I'm not sure if it was a DC tag or not.
Good luck to the owner. I hope she gets to the bottom of this!

Andrew said...

Thanks for the comment, most recent anon. The owner said there was no HRC sticker on the Mini. In any case, this trend very suspicious.

Anonymous said...

This morning I drove past a burnt Nissan Armada on the intersection of 16th st and Spring st NW. The car arsonist is still around!

Concerned said...

A car exploded in front of our house last night at 12:30 on Spring Road. It did not seem like a mechanical fire as it sounded like a bomb blast. What can we all do about this extraordinarily concerning trend?