A “malfunction with the electrical wiring” was blamed for the start of fire which destroyed several parked school buses in New Minas Nova Scotia on Saturday morning, December 22, 2018. The photo below shows the extent of the blaze.

This Facebook posted photo by Matthew Eager shows a row of school buses on fire near New Minas Nova Scotia.

This single phrase, a “malfunction with the electrical wiring”, would seem to have satisfied everyone involved such that no post-incident strategy was discussed in the CBC News article about the incident. Maybe it was because the buses were parked and there was no one inside them that made the incident appear of minor importance. But if the fire occurred when the bus was loaded with child passengers would that suddenly become a very important issue?

The point is that many vehicle fires occur, often with little consequence as the occupants of the vehicle are able to escape. But that can sometimes be a matter of luck. If for some reason occupants are not able to escape a burning vehicle the consequences could be deadly.

While the cause of a fire may be accurately identified to a specific fault, sometimes a generality such as a “malfunction” means that the investigators have located a point of origin but the specific cause may be unknown. This becomes more likely when vehicles become ever more sophisticated in their electronic components. How various modules and other electronics components function is increasing being claimed as proprietary information that is only known by the manufacturers. Even government agents who are supposed to be monitoring various safety issues are sometimes clueless about an increasing complexity and secrecy in automotive systems. Sometimes they have to appear to demonstrate that they have matters under control while actually they may be handcuffed in terms of being given sufficient information from manufacturers. It is a problem that is unlikely to go away soon. And it is problem is that is likely to become greater.

The outcomes of fires will not always be favourable. Whenever they occur it is an opportunity to document them thoroughly before the next outcome becomes much more tragic.