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Chicago Had 900 Car Fires Last Year, But Only 24 Investigated: Officials

By Ted Cox | May 24, 2016 1:11pm
 The city reported more than 900 car fires last year.
The city reported more than 900 car fires last year.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

CITY HALL — A proposed new ordinance is attempting to douse the number of car fires in the city.

Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th), lead sponsor of the ordinance, said the city logged more than 900 auto fires last year.

But Chicago Fire Capt. Michael Murphy testified at a Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday that only 24 were investigated.

"There's a black hole we need to fill," Murphy said.

Supporters of O'Shea's plan said it would cut down on the number of cars being torched by owners in a bid to get insurance payments.

It would require the owner of a burned car to submit a signed statement explaining all known details about the incident — whether the car was stolen, caught on fire naturally, or whatever the case.

 Ald. Matt O'Shea said his ordinance
Ald. Matt O'Shea said his ordinance "closes a loophole" in processing car fires.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Murphy testified that he was asked by a Boston firefighter how Chicago deals with car fires.

"To be blunt, we don't," Murphy said. Most are simply written off.

"I think it's important that every fire be investigated," said Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), chairman of the Public Safety Committee.

Sgt. Richard Sliva, an arson investigator in the Police Department, testified that it would streamline cooperation between police and firefighters in investigating car fires.

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), a former police officer and firefighter, called O'Shea's proposal "a great ordinance, long overdue."

"Auto fires are one of the most toxic fires," Murphy said. "They're highly toxic events."

Napolitano echoed that, saying, "They're so toxic, I can't even describe how toxic it is."

Because of the gas tank, oil and other combustibles in a car and the noxious nature of tire fires, he added, car fires are also prone to explosions that endanger firefighters trying to put them out.

The ordinance calls on the Fire Department to set up a system for reporting car fires, including possible interviews with the car owner. Failure to comply would result in possible fines of $200-$1,000.

The ordinance cleared the committee and heads to the full City Council for final passage next month.

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