PITTSFIELD — Mechanical issues were the cause of the fatal car fire on Wednesday morning near downtown Pittsfield according to the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services.
Fire investigators with the state office found that the fire was “not suspicious in nature” and was “caused by overheating or mechanical failure” in a 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo in the parking lot of the Livingston Apartments on East and Second streets, according to Jake Wark, the Public Information Officer with the Department of Fire Services said.
The “fire spread from the exterior undercarriage of the car” Wark said.
Police and fire crews who responded to calls of smoke coming from the Monte Carlo around 8:40 a.m. on Wednesday found Barry Dunnells, 69, of Pittsfield, incapacitated in the vehicle.
Pittsfield fire officials said that as they worked to free Dunnells from the car, the Monte Carlo’s fuel line broke and allowed fuel to flow under a Honda Insight and a Hyundai Tucson parked nearby which eventually caught on fire as well.
Dunnells was transported to Berkshire Medical Center, where he later died. The cause of death is being investigated by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Wark said that in Massachusetts car fires are largely on the decline. In 1990 the state had a reported 8,000 car fires. By 2020 that number was down by almost 75 percent to 2,200 car fires.
“About 20 percent of car fires in Massachusetts each year are caused by some form of mechanical failure,” Wark said. “Regular maintenance is the best way to prevent them. Most vehicle fires actually take place in the warmer months rather than colder ones.”
Nationally, fires are a well documented issue with 2002 Monto Carlos. The model has been part of three separate recalls from General Motors for a faulty valve cover gasket that over time allows oil to seep out and onto the exhaust manifold, according the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The oil can catch on fire and spread from the exhaust manifold to the rest of the engine.
General Motors first issued a recall in 2008 for about 200,000 vehicles with this design and then followed with another recall in 2009. The company did not fully remove the faulty parts during the first two recalls according to Associated Press reporting from 2015.
General Motors told the AP at the time that some 1,300 cars that were fixed during the recall caught fire anyway. The new batch of fires resulted in a follow-up investigation by the NHTSA and the recall of 1.4 million vehicles with the engine flaw in 2015.