UPDATE 2017: No matter what year it is, be mindful that vehicles can ignite when parked on piles of leaves.
Scary Halloween 2012 Post: As leaf piles line Naperville’s side streets for the annual leaf collection, residents should take extra precautions when parking. Be mindful of the potential danger and fire hazard that can occur by simply parking your vehicle at the side of the road, even for a few minutes to drop off or pick up children at school.
Click any photo to enlarge the gallery.
On Halloween afternoon, a car parked on Meadowland just west of Whispering Hills, across the street from May Watts Elementary School, stopped over an accumulation of fallen leaves. First there was smoldering, then the vehicle ignited. Within seconds, the vehicle became fully engaged with fire. The smell of burning tires wreaked through the neighborhood.
The red hot fire scorched a large tree and melted the asphalt along the street. All the paint had burned off the vehicle and absolutely nothing remained in the interior.
The good news is everyone escaped without harm.
The firefighters who responded to the call said the condition results when the hot exhaust system components come in contact with the fallen, dry leaves. Specifically, the fire is caused by the hot catalytic converter located underneath the car.
Just what is a catalytic converter? “A catalytic converter is device in the exhaust system of a motor vehicle, containing a catalyst for converting pollutant gases into less harmful ones,” according to one of the simplest definitions found in an Internet search.
The purpose of the catalytic converter, according to that quick web search, is to burn off hazardous and toxic pollutants generated from the gasoline powered engine. The catalytic converter, which internally holds a variety of precious metals, creates internal chemical process which burns the pollutants at a high temperature (heat from 1,000 to 1,400 degrees F.) and produces less toxic materials, primarily water and carbon dioxide.
When fallen dry leaves come in contact with the metal surface of the converter—whether the engine is running or turned off— a car that is parked on top of a dry leaf pile can easily ignite. That’s exactly what happened this Halloween afternoon.
The first responders remind all residents to check the area alongside the road as you approach to park to determine if there is an accumulation of leaves.