Volt fire fans flames of EV doubters

April 22, 2011
A fire that destroyed a garage in Connecticut. Was the GM Volt parked inside to blame?

News reports of a garage fire in Connecticut have EV doubters out in force. The fire was at the home of EV hobbyist Storm Connors, owner of a GM Volt and a 1987 Suzuki Samurai which he converted to run on electricity. According to newspaper reports, Connors and his wife awoke at about 4 AM to find their garage on fire. Inside the garage, both the Volt and the Suzuki were on charge.

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation. However, firefighters had to return a few days later to quell another fire, this time in the Volt's battery electronics. At the time, the car was sitting unplugged and had not been moved since the initial fire that destroyed the garage.

GM Global Electric Vehicle Executive Doug Parks says, in his blog, that GM is "more and more" convinced the Volt had nothing to do with the initial fire. In a nutshell, the Volt's fire damage (and that on the Suzuki) was such that the car was unlikely to be the source of the problem. (EE&T interviewed Parks for our video on the Volt powertrain, which you can view here: http://eetweb.com/video/motors-drives/chevy-volt-drive-train-0106/) "While the Volt's battery pack sustained damage, it was not extensive enough or of the type that would suggest that it caused the fire. In addition, there is clear evidence based on moderate damage to the cordset and charging system that neither component caused the fire," Parks said.

The second fire in the Volt battery pack is more understandable: The battery pack had already sustained damage.

Though detractors have used the fire to seize on the topic of EV safety, little has been said about the garage itself. From published reports it is clear the garage contains an appreciable amount of DIY charging circuitry apparently installed by Connors himself. Connors, who also has solar cells installed on his rooftop, clearly is quite a resourceful hobbyist. But it is unclear whether his garage installations were inspected for adherence to building codes.

Doug Parks' blog entry on the fire is here: http://www.chevroletvoltage.com/index.php/Volt/let-the-experts-do-their-work.html

Storm Connors' blog: http://stormselectric.blogspot.com/

A local newspaper covered the fire here: http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2011/04/chevy_volts_possible_role_in_c.html

EE&T covered efforts to understand how to deal with an EV fire: http://eetweb.com/applications/EV_fires_12111/

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