Fire officials are issuing a public warning about the dangers of leaving water bottles inside vehicles during hot temperatures.
David Richardson with the Midwest Fire Department told KFOR-TV how the water bottle can carry the heat from the sun’s rays.
“The sunlight will come through when it’s filled with liquid, and act as a magnifying glass as you would with regular optics,” said Richardson.
That’s when it gets dangerous, he says.
“It uses the liquid and the clear material to develop a focused beam and sure enough, it can actually cause a fire, a combustion,” said Richardson.
The Midwest City Fire Department conducted a test on this and found that sunlight magnified through a bottle of water reached 250 degrees.
The intensified heat can then focus on other interior materials of the car, including the fabrics, seats or mats—potentially setting those materials on fire.
In a Facebook video posted by Idaho Power on July 13, 2017, Dioni Amuchastegui, a power station’s battery technician, explains how he discovered first-hand how an innocent plastic bottle of water can instantly create a dangerous situation.
He said he was eating lunch when he started to “notice some smoke out of the corner of my eye.” He looked over and noticed that light was being refracted through a water bottle and “was starting to catch the seat on fire.”
The video below shows how a plastic water bottle can cause a fire if left inside a car.
In the video, Amuchastegui sets up the exact position of the bottle on the seat with the sunlight coming through, and flames can be seen appearing and flickering on the fabric of the seat.
As he lifts the bottle away from the seat, two leftover burn marks can be seen. The heat was strong enough to burn a hole.
“I was a little bit surprised actually I had to do a double take and checked it again and sure enough it was super hot. I even stuck my hand under the light, just hard to believe at first,” Amuchastegui said in the video.
Fire officials recommend people to keep bottles of water outside of the vehicle when no one is using it.
Kids in Cars
On average, according to advocacy website Kids and Cars, “37 children die from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside vehicles. Even the best of parents or caregivers can unknowingly leave a sleeping baby in a car; and the end result can be injury or even death.”
In 2016, 39 children across the United States died because they were left inside a hot car, according to the website No Heat Stroke. In a 19-year-period, when more than 700 children died of heatstroke inside cars, 54 percent of caretakers said they “forgot” that the child was there.
“It doesn’t have to be a blazing hot day for these to happen,” Jan Null, a San Jose State professor and former meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told the San Jose Mercury News. “They can happen anywhere, and happen to anyone.”
Null told SFGate that the temperatures inside vehicles heat up rapidly, with the air rising about 19 degrees over whatever the outside temperature is in the first 10 minutes and rising another 10 degrees in the next 10 minutes.
Additionally, Null said the bodies of small children heat up three to five times faster compared to adults.
“So, while you and I could be in a car that’s, say, 109 degrees, an infant or small child would be to the point of entering heat stroke,” he said.
The U.S. National Safety Council said, “Parents and caregivers can act immediately to end these deaths. Even on relatively mild days, temperatures inside vehicles still can reach life-threatening levels in minutes, and cracking the window doesn’t help,” it says.
“The National Safety Council advises parents and caregivers to stick to a routine and avoid distractions to reduce the risk of forgetting a child. Keep car doors locked so children cannot gain access, and teach them that cars are not play areas. Place a purse, briefcase or even a left shoe in the back seat to force you to take one last glance.”