Business & Economy

Low Venezuelan gasoline quality posing risk of car fires

By Sarai Coscojuela and Henry Chirinos

Caracas/Maracaibo, Venezuela, May 2 (EFE).- The fuel tank in the vehicle of the Caritas organization that Sister Amarilis Ybarra was driving caught fire while she was on the road, en route to helping the most vulnerable people in the Venezuelan state of Zulia, a situation that recurred this year in 26 vehicles in the region, the result – experts say – of using contaminated gasoline.

Sister Amarilis got the help of local residents, who made sure the flames didn’t completely destroy the vehicle before the firefighters got there to put out the flames.

“We began to throw sand into the car, where the gasoline was coming from … and underneath also, and some people came with extinguishers. We took the extinguisher from the office, several (of them) and the firemen came immediately,” she told EFE.

In her judgment, it was the poor quality of the gasoline in the car that caused the fire, having been supplied a few months earlier to the organization belonging to the Catholic Church.

Maracaibo Municipal Fire Department chief Engelberth Atencio told EFE that, between Jan. 1 and mid-April there have been a total of 26 vehicles that have caught fire in Zulia state.

He said that these events show the same pattern, with the fires beginning in the area of the gasoline pump, in the fuel tank or in the various connections within that system.

“This takes into account the information from the (vehicle) owners who are on the scene. They tell us themselves that where the flames are coming from is from the gasoline pump or where the fuses are,” he sid.

Given these similarities, he said that the Fire Department prepared a report to send to the state-run petroleum firm PDVSA to determine if – in fact – it’s the quality of the fuel that is affecting the fuel cells in the vehicles.

Meanwhile, Maximo Segundo Castillo, a mechanic with 25 years of experience, said that gasoline “contamination” makes the internal filters, both in the gas pump as well as elsewhere, break down and get destroyed, something that leads to an increase in electrical amperage, overheating and – in the worse case – a fire.

“So, the car has a problem, it burns up completely or starts to fail. Sometimes, the electrical system has heated up, what’s called the pump assembly and then everything completely burns up. The wiring system and the plastic melt and that’s when the cars catch fire,” he told EFE.

So far, PDVSA, which is responsible for gasoline quality and distribution in Venezuela, has not issued an official statement on the situation, but it did post a video on its Twitter account in which they asked people buying fuel at a gas station to “smell” gasoline in a plastic container to verify the quality of the product.

Castillo added that in recent weeks, he’s been getting up to seven vehicles per day at his workshop in Maracaibo needing changes in batteries, electrical systems or connectors that have “gone bad.”

“You’ve got to (replace) them because when the battery goes bad, dirt gets into the gasoline – it’s very cloudy, with a strong odor, a smell like gas, which people say smells like a sewer,” he said.

He said that the fuel temperature in some vehicles that he’s examined at his workshop, has gotten up to 65 C (about 150 F), when the normal temperature should fluctuate between 10-30 C (50-86 F), at most.

“This is the first time in my experience that something like this is happening, because it’s certainly occurred at service stations, where the (fuel) tanks are contaminated, they fill with water and, I’ll tell you something, five or six vehicles that come in with water in the fuel tank and with the pump burned out due to the water – well, that’s not something random,” he said.

EFE –/bp

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