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Patrol car flare-ups have police burning

June 03, 2000

Amber Willard

BURBANK -- Police officials said the department plans to sue the maker

of road flares that may have caused fires in three patrol cars in little

more than a year.

City Atty. Dennis Barlow said Friday that the case has not yet been

filed and that any litigation must first be approved by City Council.

Police say they expect someone to pay for the damage.

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"We feel someone is responsible for us losing three cars," Police Lt.

Robert Giles said.

The latest fire occurred Wednesday morning at the intersection of Lake

Street and Olive Avenue when veteran Officer Fernando Rojas noticed smoke

coming from the trunk of his car.

Rojas tried to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher, but flares

are difficult to snuff out, Giles said. Rojas was treated for minor smoke

inhalation and returned to work that day, Giles said.

The car, a new Ford Crown Victoria, was totaled. Including the

equipment inside, the patrol car cost about $30,000, Asst. Police Chief

Robert Heins said. A box of flares costs $35.

Officials would not release the name of the flare manufacturer because

of the pending suit, but said the Alhambra Police Department uses the

same brand and has also had problems.

Alhambra Police Lt. Robert Smith said the department uses two kinds of

flares. The brand they believe caused fires in two of their patrol cars

is made in China.

"The safety caps aren't secure, (they) always fall off," Smith said.

Alhambra has no conclusive proof that the flares are flawed, but he

said there haven't been any problems since they were removed from the

cars.

The first fire in a Burbank patrol car occurred in February 1999 in the

department's underground garage. The other fire occurred in January when

an officer was driving through the city. Neither officer was injured, but

both cars were extensively damaged.

The average motorist does not need to be concerned about car fires

caused by flares, said a spokeswoman from the American Automobile Assn.

of Southern California.

"This is the first I've heard of it," said the association's Marie

Montgomery.

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