May 18

Exclusive: Chevrolet Volt unofficially cleared in Connecticut garage fire

 

After flames of rhetoric alleging the Chevrolet Volt might have caused a Connecticut garage fire last month, the case has basically fizzled from the media’s attention, but yesterday the local fire marshal in charge said the Volt was cleared of suspicion in his mind.

“It wasn’t the cars,” Barkhamsted Fire Marshal William Baldwin told GM-Volt.com regarding the cause of a fire at the Barkhamsted residence of Dee and Storm Connors.

This is Baldwin’s only known public statement clearing the Volt, so we thought we would mention it because he said it unequivocally and repeated it.


Last month the Barkhamsted, Conn. garage fire became a rallying point for allegedly pro-American pundits who took the very un-American view that the Volt was guilty until proven innocent.

“It wasn’t the cars,” he said again of the April 14 fire that destroyed a garage and its contents, but did not spread to the adjoining house due to a robust firewall.

Officially the fire marshal’s report still states the cause was “inconclusive,” but as the local fire official responsible for the investigation – among other investigators – Baldwin’s view yesterday was at least conclusive about the big question surrounding the Volt.

So, we asked, what was the cause? Could it have been the garage wiring or some other incendiary source?

He said yes it could have been, but he does not believe it was the fault of the Chevrolet Volt or a home-converted Suzuki Samurai EV that was also in the garage at the time of the fire.


The cars were left still smoldering in the garage by investigators, and the Volt (on right) actually reignited briefly before being extinguished again.

According to Storm Connors, the owner of the house and the EVs in question, his garage had a number of flammable items laying around. This is what he wrote on his blog April 20:

Ya gotta love the media and the public’s perceptions. Tis true that the Volt was suspected of causing the fire. So was the Suzuki, the electrical wiring, candles, discarded ashes, oily rags and any other possible ignition source. We have been reviewed by the Fire marshal, the state fire marshal, the CT State Police forensics group, the National auto safety board, 5 engineers from GM; all of whom seem pretty sure that the Volt did not cause the fire. A state electrical investigator spent 4 hours examining the wiring to the Suzuki charger and gave it a clean bill of health.
It will be quite a while before we will be able to occupy the house, despite Heather’s observation. Smoke odor is the biggest problem, but we still have no electricity. The local fire department did a super job in confining the fire to the attached garage.
My advice would be to have a smoke detector in the garage, clean the junk out of the garage, and take lots of pictures. It is really hard to remember what stuff you had before the fire.


We are sorry for the Connors’ loss and that their misfortune was made the focal point of unkind screeds, and suspicious allegations. This is a picture of the 1997 Suzuki from Storm Connors’ blog.

Baldwin further told us that GM’s people came and retrieved the cars, and they are still analyzing the burned vehicles.

“They took the cars,” he said, “it’s done.”

Actually, GM only took the Volt, not the Suzuki.

Wondering about all the reactive media attention the case got, and following a hunch, we asked: “No one followed up on this, did they?”

Baldwin said Amica insurance had, but did not mention any follow up from the reporters and commentators last month – some of which had alleged bad news for the Volt, electric vehicles, environmentalism, General Motors, government bailouts, taxpayers’ money, and anything else they felt was remotely related.

We expect if indeed no reporters have followed up, some now will.

And although Fire Marshal Baldwin was good enough to briefly answer our questions, he said we had called at an inconvenient time, and had nothing else to add.

At this point, it is up to Amica insurance and GM to make their own assessments – and they haven’t announced anything yet.

GM’s investigators have gone on record as stating they do not believe the Volt was at fault, and as of Wednesday this week, this is still the case, but they have not broadcast the news in the form of a loud-and-clear press release.

So while we would like to say the Volt is 100-percent vindicated, we are reporting “unofficially” until all involved investigators make a definitive determination.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 18th, 2011 at 5:55 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

COMMENTS: 25


  1. 1
    Future EV Driver

    +3

     

    Future EV Driver
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (6:27 am)

    Good to see the Volt cleared of the fire!

    Go Volt!


  2. 2
    Mark Z

    +8

     

    Mark Z
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (6:51 am)

    This article is the wake up call to check the garage and do some spring cleaning. Those planning on purchasing an EV would be wise to plan on installing a dedicated circuit for charging their new vehicle.


  3. 3
    Raymondjram

    +3

     

    Raymondjram
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (7:06 am)

    My post about the fire was true. The Volt showed no damaged from an internal fire, so I was 100% sure that it was not the fire source. Besides, GM does an excellent job of preventing any fire hazards in the engine bay by protecting all electrical contacts, and sealing any fuel lines from exposure.

    Now we know that the Volt is also well designed in fire safety, and that it won’t “blow up” in a fire, like we are shown for regular ICE vehicles in some action movies.

    Raymond


  4. 4
    Fluke

     

    Fluke
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (7:24 am)

    I’m surprised to see a recommendation for a smoke detector in a garage. I would think it would give too many false alarms. I would lean towards installing a heat detector in the garage.


  5. 5
    Jim I

    +1

     

    Jim I
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (7:29 am)

    I wonder how long it will take to get an insurance settlement, so they can get their home fixed and buy another Volt????

    Have they said they will replace the volt?

    NPNS


  6. 6
    Xiaowei1

     

    Xiaowei1
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (7:46 am)

    Jim I,

    I wonder how long it will take to get a new volt given the short supply!


  7. 7
    Clintonfitz

    +1

     

    Clintonfitz
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (7:48 am)

    Very happy to hear the Volt didn’t cause the fire. However, although most EV conversions are very well done, I am a bit more skeptical of the Suzuki.


  8. 8
    kdawg

    +1

     

    kdawg
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (8:17 am)

    Well, like they say, any attention is good attention. Even with the bad press, I hope some people learned what a Volt was from this.


  9. 9
    Dan Petit

     

    Dan Petit
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (8:28 am)

    Spring cleaning is a great idea to get rid of all the clutter. Don’t waste your whole day with a garage sale, instead, if anything is usable at all that you are not using, give it all away to some enterprising individual who wants whatever is cluttering up your garage.

    This Saturday, one of my best students gets to pick out all the shop mechanical servicing equipment that I no longer use. (My work for the last 7 years has me sitting inside of Chevy Suburbans (because their PCMs give us everything all at once) with three other shop techs viewing the large screen of a Genisys, analyzing everything GM has provided us all for aftermarket servicing diagnostics education.) The rest of the clutter goes to either goodwill or the trash bin.

    Get rid of all those chemicals/oils/solvents/ to whichever type of business could use them.
    (Don’t overbuy larger sizes of anything that you are not sure you will immediately use in any given task, because any remainder does not stay as effective/functional anyway.)


  10. 10
    MichaelH

    +3

     

    MichaelH
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (9:38 am)

    Jim I: I wonder how long it will take to get an insurance settlement, so they can get their home fixed and buy another Volt????

    Have they said they will replace the volt?

    Yes, the owner posts on the forum here ( as Stormconnors ), and has said his new Volt has been ordered. One week ago he posted, “I ordered a new Volt. Does that show enough confidence?” ;-)


  11. 11
    Larry L. McFall

    +1

     

    Larry L. McFall
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (9:48 am)

    A garage fire. This sounds as if there never has ever been a garage fire in the past. This event is not an unusal event if you see some peoples garages.

    Just the fact that many have internal combustion engine vehicles parked inside that is full of high octane gasoline, engine drips oil on the deck with many appliances plugged in to limited outlets.

    Others store fuel of all kinds in their garages and the such. When all is said and done, the Volt was probably the safest less likley to intiate a fire item in the garage. Of course there could have been a problem in the charging of the vehicles like, overloading the wiring.

    The fire marshal if any good at all will be able to distinguish the point of [ start of the fire ] .


  12. 12
    N Riley

    +1

     

    N Riley
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (9:56 am)

    Sorry for Storm’s problems and hope everything is settled satisfactory soon. Thanks for the update, Jeff.


  13. 13
    Rashiid Amul

    +1

     

    Rashiid Amul
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (11:02 am)

    Thanks Jeff. This is good to hear.


  14. 14
    Noel Park

    +1

     

    Noel Park
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (11:25 am)

    N Riley: Sorry for Storm’s problems and hope everything is settled satisfactory soon. Thanks for the update, Jeff.

    Rashiid Amul: Thanks Jeff.This is good to hear.

    #12 & #13

    3rd the motion. +1

    BTW, I was never worried. The only way I could see the Volt being implicated at all is if somebody had mickey moused the charger installation. Which I assume the Fire Marshal would have noticed, no?


  15. 15
    Noel Park

     

    Noel Park
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (11:27 am)

    Mark Z: Those planning on purchasing an EV would be wise to plan on installing a dedicated circuit for charging their new vehicle.

    #2

    True that. +1


  16. 16
    Jeff Cobb

    +3

     

    Jeff Cobb
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (11:35 am)

    N Riley,
    Rashiid Amul,
    Noel Park,

    You are welcome. Wish I could have gotten more but he did not sound like he enjoyed talking to the press. Just gave me what I wanted to know right up front, but was not talkative.

    As far as I know, no one else has heard him say this. It’s only been “inconclusive” till now. I will be looking to see whether some other authority or investigator has something else to say.


  17. 17
    Jim I

    +1

     

    Jim I
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (1:29 pm)

    I stopped in to get a haircut this morning. My barber knows I will be ordering a Volt as soon as I can here in Ohio (barbers know everything…..). He mentioned to me about the “fire with the Volt”, and what I thought about it. I told him that the Volt was cleared and that they were still investigating the real cause of the fire. I also mentioned that GM had taken the car back to MI to go over it to make sure it was not related to the Volt.

    He said that the reporters who covered this should also now be saying that the Volt was not responsible, and that it looked to him like they were just out to get the Volt. My response was: “My feelings exactly, and I am glad you can see through the shoddy journalism.”

    So this was great timing on this story, Jeff!!!!

    :-)

    NPNS

    Have Outlet – Ready For A Blue Volt In Youngstown, Ohio


  18. 18
    Loboc

     

    Loboc
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (2:41 pm)

    Experimental EVs are just that, experimental. Which means experimenters live there. No offense, Storm, but I’m thinking your garage was going up in flames no matter what cars were in it. Thank the big guy that nobody was hurt and the house is just smoky.

    My former next-door neighbor was a hoarder and experimented with electrical. His attached garage went up in flames due to bad wiring that was running a compressor for no reason. The fire dept couldn’t do much because of floor-to-ceiling junk. His house was totaled. Everybody got out in time and since I don’t live in a zero-lot area, my house was untouched.

    Everyone needs to take these examples to heart. Check your garage and storage areas (attic, rooms, closets) for un-needed junk and get rid of it. Make sure you don’t have dead leaves and other trash in your yard so someone elses uncontrolled fire catches your stuff as well. And by all means get rid of that ‘temporary’ wiring and semi-permanent extension cords.


  19. 19
    T 1

     

    T 1
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (2:54 pm)

    Nice follow-up, Jeff. Refreshing to see your thoroughness.

    Oh, and the unofficial verdict of innocence. Kills my chance of getting a Volt at a ridiculous undeserved fire sale price, though. :^(


  20. 20
    George

    +1

     

    George
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (5:29 pm)

    Only the American far right-wing would try to use a garage fire as evidence that gov’t bailouts don’t work (not to mention the fact that not a dime of bailout money actually went into the Volt’s R & D budget). Gotta love it…

    Peace…George, Sudbury, Ont., Canada…Go Volt!!!


  21. 21
    nasaman

     

    nasaman
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (6:30 pm)

    This is terrific investigative journalism, Jeff!!! You’ll likely be another writer’s source!


  22. 22
    Ted in Fort Myers

     

    Ted in Fort Myers
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (8:15 pm)

    Thanks Jeff for the update. It sure makes me feel better about the Volt #1506 chargin in my garage.

    Take Care,
    TED


  23. 23
    Storm

    +1

     

    Storm
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (9:35 pm)

    Please don’t assume from the quote that all these things were in my garage. I certainly wouldn’t put wood ashes or oily rags or whatever. It is frustrating that the cause cannot be pinpointed. On a positive note, my garage has been cleaned out. :-) It resembles a patio now.

    GM did not take the Suzuki. I would have liked to see it evaluated as exhaustively as the Volt was.

    No news on when I can get the new one.


  24. 24
    Jeff Cobb

    +1

     

    Jeff Cobb
     Says

     

    May 18th, 2011 (10:31 pm)

    Storm,

    Sorry if I misrepresented anything about your garage Storm. No harm intended.

    Would it be possible for me to call you about this whole case?

    I’m hearing a different take on things now from the state fire marshal.

    He says at the state level they have not finalized the investigation.

    I am sticking to my word that these unambiguous quotes are what I got however, and Baldwin is the fire marshal in charge.

    Additionally GM said today its engineers are still convinced it was not the Volt’s fault. That determination was made in April, about a week after the fire.

    I will follow up on this.


  25. 25
    jim1961

     

    jim1961
     Says

     

    May 19th, 2011 (5:36 am)

    I wouldn’t be surprised if right wingers concoct a conspiracy theory that GM took the Volt in order to cover up the cause of the fire.