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Moment the school run almost ended in fireball tragedy

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 24/10/2015

The burnt-out Vauxhall Zafira belonging to David Pickles
The burnt-out Vauxhall Zafira belonging to David Pickles
Ian Sharratt

A Co Down father has told of the terrifying moment the school run ended in chaos with the family car bursting into flames.

David Pickles was driving his partner and two children in his Vauxhall Zafira a week ago when they noticed smoke inside the car.

The Comber man explained that within 10 minutes of stopping his vehicle it was engulfed by flames.

The 27-year-old, his partner Naomi Hartigan and children Lewis (11) and Corbin (2) escaped without injury from the vehicle, but were left badly shaken.

It was the second case of this particular model of car bursting into flames in Northern Ireland that the Belfast Telegraph has highlighted.

Ian Sharratt from Donaghadee and his two-year-old also escaped unscathed when their family seven-seater went on fire in Belfast on July 8.

Mr Pickles' car is one of the Vauxhall Zafira B series from 2005-2014 (those with manual air-conditioning only) which are the centre of concerns about their safety after more than 130 of them were reported to have gone on fire.

Vauxhall has offered free inspections to owners of the particular model to look at the heating and ventilation systems, and the maker will replace certain parts if required.

An investigation by BBC's Watchdog on Thursday revealed that Vauxhall had set up a special customer line to deal with concerns.

But the firm, which has sold hundreds of thousands of the models across the UK, has stopped short of a recall, which is what affected owners are calling for.

Mr Pickles claimed: "Vauxhall has done nothing to rectify the problem with people like me who have lost the car.

"Inside of 10 minutes my car had caught light and was burnt-out - the engine bay was gone, windscreen, bumpers, tyres, electrics.

"Everything inside the car was completely destroyed; the roof lining melted and dripped over everything, the wiring looms were down and the inside was smoke and fire-damaged.

"The child's car seat was destroyed, and the children's fleeces and coats were beyond saving.

"I am now hopeful that my insurance company will pay out my claim, but they will be speaking to Vauxhall to establish a cause."

The family had been driving to collect their eldest child, who was sitting school transfer tests when the drama enfolded.

Meanwhile, a retired electronic engineering expert has come forward with what he believes could be the likely cause of the fires.

Dr John Webb, formerly of the Ulster University, spoke out because he fears the loss of a child's life if any further incidents were to occur.

He said that the Zafira model had a resistor unit that worked in association with the blower unit, which blows air around the car. The location of that in this range of Zafiras is close to a pollen filter, which is a piece of combustible material.

He explained: "The filter gets hot, and can get very hot under fault conditions.

"With other dust and debris that can collect there, you have the potential for a tinderbox.

"I think it could be resolved safely.

"The answer is to reinstall the resistor in the engine compartment, well away from anything that could be flammable."

Vauxhall has advised owners the current Tourer model is not affected.

The customer care helpline number is 0844 3690114.

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