A tragic fire that killed two children in Austin, Texas is being blamed on a recalled part in a Ford F150 pickup. There may be over a million more affected vehicles on the road.
Two boys killed
Two boys, ages seven and five, were sleeping in a garage, converted into their bedroom, when the fire broke out at about 3 a.m. Tuesday.
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Denise Estrada, a neighbor, was awakened by the sound of the fire, thinking it was gunfire. She said:
“I just heard screaming and popping.”
The remaining five members of the family made it out safely, but the two boys died, probably from smoke inhalation.
“The father was going in and out with a paint mask, trying to get his kids, but they (the fire crews) wouldn’t let him inside and he was yelling out ‘They’re in the garage, please help them.’ … They’re like so little, nice kids, and in a minute they’re gone.”
Recalled cruise control switch blamed
Investigators believe the fire began in a 2001 Ford F150 pickup that was parked adjacent to the garage. In 2005, federal safety regulators recalled about 800,000 Fords over a failed cruise control switch that, in some cases, could spontaneously burst into flames.
However, Ford estimates that there may have been as many as 4.3 million vehicles made with the defective switch. Yet only around 2.5 million have been repaired by the automaker. It is unclear why so few vehicles were recalled if the problem is as widespread as Ford’s estimate.
In 2010, Ford issues a reminder letter to affected owners. That letter read, in part:
“(A) fire can occur at any point, even if the key is not in the ignition.”
How many more?
Another neighbor, Brandy Shaw, told reporters:
“It makes me wonder how many other vehicles, how many other companies, how many other brands have recalls that nobody knows about.”
How many indeed. This could be a wake-up call for owners of older Fords to check their VIN against those that have been recalled. recalled vehicles are listed on the government site, safecar.gov. That URL is http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/recalls/recallsearch.cfm.
A sad night in Austin
Meanwhile, a 95-year-old woman was killed in a separate fire in Austin the same night. Investigators say there were no operable smoke detectors in place at either tragic location.
Fire Chief Thayer Smith said:
“Being able to remember multiple fatalities in multiple locations across the city at the same time, that’s not something I can remember us having to deal with in the past.”