Illinois Fire Department Shares Pictures of Car That Reportedly Caught Fire Due to Bottle of Hand Sanitizer

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
June 19, 2020USshare
Illinois Fire Department Shares Pictures of Car That Reportedly Caught Fire Due to Bottle of Hand Sanitizer
Vehicle caught fire after a bottle of hand sanitizer was left on the dashboard on June 18, 2020. (Courtesy of Waukegan Fire Department)

An Illinois Fire Department shared three pictures on Facebook, showing a vehicle’s interior dashboard melted after a bottle of flammable hand sanitizer was reportedly left inside the car and helped spark a fire.

The Waukegan Fire Department responded shortly after noon on Thursday for a reported vehicle fire on Pioneer Road, though the fire was already taken care of when firefighters arrived on the scene.

The owner of the vehicle had sprayed water through a hole in the windshield, but the fire department said it likely went out due to a lack of oxygen.

“Our preliminary investigation was completed, the fire appeared to be caused by the owners small bottle of hand sanitizer that was left on the dashboard,” the department wrote in the news release.

The hand sanitizer the owner used contained 80 percent alcohol and was left in direct sunlight, according to the department. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol.

“The Waukegan Fire Department is aware of other incidents similar to this happening as more and more people are using a higher alcohol concentration hand sanitizer due to our current pandemic,” the department stated.

“As the heat of summer is near we STRONGLY recommend that hand sanitizers not be kept in cars,” the release continued.

Last month, a similar post went viral after the Western Lakes Fire District in Wisconsin issued a warning about leaving bottles of hand sanitizer in cars, but the department deleted the post shortly afterward due to the post causing confusion.

“It’s become clear that a recent post about hand sanitizer was taken in many different directions from our original goal,” the fire department stated.

“Our message was intended to center on preventing fire or injury from the use of hand sanitizer. It also regarded the past history of issues stemming from clear bottles being stored in vehicles. These bottles typically store bottled water or as of late; hand sanitizer,” the release said. “The open flame comment was to remind people that when hand sanitizer is wet on any surface it will ignite when exposed to flame.”

‘Extremely Rare’

A study by Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology in 2007 and reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) said that fire hazards from sanitizer were extremely rare and that the benefits of the alcohol in terms of infection prevention far outweigh the fire risks.

The study found that hand sanitizers (rubs) have been used for decades in an “estimated total of 25,038 hospital years of use” and a total of seven “non-severe fire incidents were reported.”

Over the years, fire departments have gone on social media to warn motorists about the rare risk of a fire caused by water bottles left inside cars.

“The sunlight will come through when it’s filled with liquid, and act as a magnifying glass as you would with regular optics,” David Richardson with the Midwest Fire Department told KFOR-TV in 2017. “It uses the liquid and the clear material to develop a focused beam and sure enough, it can actually cause a fire, a combustion,” he added.

During a test, the Midwest Fire Department found that sunlight magnified through a bottle of water reached 250 degrees F. That sunlight can focus on interior materials in the car, such as the seats or mats, setting them alight, the department added.

In a Facebook video posted by Idaho Power in July 2017, Dioni Amuchastegui, a power station’s battery technician, said that he witnessed the incident happen.

“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.

Jack Phillips contributed to this report.

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