POLK COUNTY, Florida — There is growing concern as the number of Kia vehicles bursting into flames in the Tampa Bay, Florida area continues to climb.
WFTS television station first exposed the spontaneous fires in April. Reporters with the station are now asking why federal regulators aren't doing more and what it will take to get answers from the manufacturer.
On a 9-1-1 call, a witness describes a baby being pulled out of a burning SUV on the side of Highway 27 in Polk County. Daniel Adams, his wife Christina and their 13-month-old son were all inside the Kia when it caught fire last month.
The Davenport couple says they got themselves and their son out with seconds to spare before flames engulfed the entire 2013 Sorento.
Tisha Van Allen says her 2012 Optima spontaneously burst into flames while she drove down the road in Memphis weeks ago. Van Allen is the second Optima fire victim to tell us she could not get the door open. In her case, a passerby stopped and yanked her door open.
Hundreds of KIA drivers around the country have filed similar reports with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. But two models stand out. 91 of the complaints involve the 2011 to 2014 Optimas and Sorentos. Many of these vehicles were already under an engine defect recall unrelated to the fires.
Weeks before the fire Kia replaced the engine in the Adams' Sorento under the recall. WFTS reporters have spoken with nine KIA drivers who say their vehicle burned to the ground.
To put the fires into perspective, WFTS reporters looked at similar-sized SUVs and sedans. Over a 3-year period, Ford, Toyota, and Honda SUVs reported between one and two fires each. And NHTSA data for the 2013 Toyota Camry and Honda accord contains a total of two fire reports total.
WFTS brought in auto fire investigator Rich Meier of Meier Fire Investigations to examine the Adams’ vehicle.
He determined the fire started in the rear portion of the engine compartment but could not pinpoint the cause. Our questions prompted KIA to examine three of the vehicles in our stories.
Kia told the TV station in an email: “Kia Motors America (KMA) works directly with customers and will provide inspection results directly to those customers. If it is determined that a fire is the result of a manufacturing-related issue, KMA will work with customers to address any costs or expenses they may incur.”
Senator Bill Nelson petitioned NHTSA for a full investigation after seeing one of WFTS' investigative stories. But the agency limited its review to the two recalls already in place.
Consumer watchdogs including Consumers Union accuse NHTSA of failing to protect public safety by not separately investigating the fires.
Now the US Senate Transportation Committee is debating whether to call a Senate hearing that would force the makers of KIA to answer questions under oath about the fires, and what's causing them.
Any and all vehicle fires should be reported here.