During the summer, it’s incredibly important to stay hydrated – particularly if you’re out in the sun for a while. And, handily, there are a variety of options out there by which to achieve this – through sipping from a public fountain, for instance, or taking swigs from plastic water bottles. But those wanting to boost their water intake should take heed of Dioni Amuchastegui’s worrying experience.
On a hot day in Boise, Idaho, in July 2017, Amuchastegui was taking a well-earned break from his job. After glancing quickly at his truck, though, the power company worker happened to notice something quite troubling. According to Amuchastegui, smoke was starting to billow inside the vehicle.
Naturally, then, Amuchastegui investigated the issue, after which he realized that the smoke was emanating from one of the truck’s front seats. When the technician finally discovered the cause of the problem, however, it left him somewhat shocked.
Before the incident, you see, Amuchastegui had put a plastic bottle of water on one of the seats. Then, as the sun had beamed down on the truck, the bottle had become a makeshift lens, magnifying the rays of light onto the seats’ material. And after this scary event, the vehicle owner looked to spread the word about this potential fire hazard via social media.
For many people across the world, summer is the most enjoyable time of the year. Temperatures are often high during the season, after all, and balmy weather may make leaving the house an much more pleasant prospect. If the heat gets too intense, however, there could be some drawbacks.
Car owners in particular have to be extremely vigilant during the summer months, as the hot weather can cause a number of problems. Leaving an animal or a youngster alone in a vehicle, for instance, becomes even more potentially dangerous – and that’s certainly not all.
You see, if a motorist leaves their vehicle in the sun for some time, the interior will absorb the heat. When the driver eventually returns and opens the door, then, an intense burst of warm air will come out of the car. The dash, the steering wheel and the seats may all feel incredibly hot, too.
In those conditions, the driver can either wait for the interior to cool down or brave their next journey in the uncomfortable heat. Whatever they choose to do, though, they also have a responsibility to keep themselves hydrated on the road.
But why is it important to keep your water levels topped up when traveling from A to B? Well, a study from the U.K.’s Loughborough University has discovered that dehydrated motorists could pose a big danger when behind the wheel. In much the same way as drunk drivers, they may suffer impairments of their abilities – thus making accidents more likely.
In a 2018 report about the findings, British newspaper The Sun explained, “A survey by Leasing Options found a whopping 84 percent of motorists felt [that drunk-driving] was far more dangerous than not having enough water.” Worrying, the publication added, “Around three in five Brits had no idea of the risks [of dehydration at the wheel] at all.”
And it seems that such ignorance may have a knock-on effect. “With just under 70 percent of accidents on U.K. roads being attributed to driver error, dehydration could be a major factor in motorists losing focus and being involved in a collision,” The Sun further explained.
Leasing Options’ Mike Thompson therefore offered up some advice to drivers who were facing hot weather. “Showing caution and drinking more water will not only have a positive effect on the body, but [it] will also ensure [that] motorists stand a far greater chance of reaching their destination safe and well,” he told The Sun.
And Thompson’s words of wisdom didn’t end there. “When starting your car ready for the morning commute, you may not think [that] drinking an extra glass of water before leaving the house would affect your driving abilities,” he said to the newspaper. “But you would be wrong – so make it your prerogative.”
“Try carrying a water bottle in the car, or have an extra glass of water at the beginning and end of your working day to avoid dehydrated driving,” Thompson further recommended. However, that first suggestion may bring with it some risks if Amuchastegui’s story is anything to go by.
During a scorching hot day in Boise in July 2017, Amuchastegui had taken a break inside his vehicle. While tucking into his lunch, though, the technician noticed something alarming: one of the front seats had started to smoke. Thankfully, he was at least able to prevent his truck from bursting into flames.
Then, after putting the smoke out, Amuchastegui came to a surprising realization: the incident had been caused by a plastic bottle of water on the seat, as this had acted like a lens of sorts in the sun. But while the man later recounted what had happened to some of his co-workers, they found the tale hard to believe.
“A lot of people on [Amuchastegui’s] team thought he was making it up,” Melissa Thom recalled to CBS News in August 2017. “Everybody was shocked.” And Amuchastegui looked to share his experience with the world, too – not least because other motorists may not know about the potential fire hazards in their cars.
Amuchastegui’s employer, Idaho Power, went on to film a short video about the incident that was ultimately shared on Facebook. Titled “Safety Check: Water Bottle in a Hot Car,” the clip opens up with an introduction from the technician, who casts his mind back to that hot day in his truck.
“So, I was taking an early lunch and sitting in the truck,” Amuchastegui recalls in the social media video. “[And I] happened to notice some smoke out of the corner of my eye. I looked over and noticed that light was being refracted through a water bottle and started to catch the seat on fire.”
Amuchastegui also touches upon his initial reaction to the incident, saying, “I was a little bit surprised. I actually had to do a double take, [so] I checked it again. And, sure enough, [the seat] was super hot. I even stuck my hand under the light. [It] was hard to believe at first.”
A little earlier in the video, Amuchastegui had demonstrated what had happened in the truck, showing off the two burn marks to the interior. It was revealed, too, that Idaho Power had attempted to recreate the incident, with a camera ultimately capturing the results.
“We tested [the situation] again and registered the heat. I don’t remember exactly what it was,” Amuchastegui recalls. “With a non-contact thermometer, it was extremely hot. It was hot enough to start burning a hole through the seat. It’s not something you really expect – having a water bottle that [will] catch your chair on fire.”
As Amuchastegui is talking, the video cuts to a stationary shot of the bottle above the seat. Then, within a few moments, the reflected sunlight starts to burn the material, which produces some noticeable smoke. At this point, it’s revealed that the plastic is generating a temperature of 213 °F.
And the Idaho Power post certainly seemed to make people sit up and take notice. At the very least, the clip has gone viral, having earned close to two million views on Facebook since it was first added to the social media site in July 2017.
The video has also generated close to 2,000 likes and just under 7,000 shares, with more than 240 people commenting on the post to boot. And, unsurprisingly, there were many who hadn’t known about the potential dangers of water bottles in cars.
“Wow!” wrote one user in the comments section of the video. “That’s dangerous. Thank you for teaching me something new. I will be passing this information along to my family and associates.” Another person reiterated those feelings before going on to make an interesting point.
“Wow, think how many water bottles are floating around in people’s vehicles!” the Facebook user wrote. “That’s scary.” And yet another commenter chose to raise an important issue that hadn’t actually been addressed by Idaho Power’s video – but one that was still worth heeding.
That person revealed their belief that the human body may also be damaged by using containers that are left out in the heat. “Plastic bottles of water when sat in the sun should be thrown away,” the user wrote. “They release toxins. Ditch the plastic; [it’s] not good for anyone or the planet.”
And David Richardson from Oklahoma’s Midwest City Fire Department also took it upon himself to weigh in on the discussion. According to the administration major, a plastic bottle could absolutely start a blaze in that situation.
“Vinyl generally starts to burn at 455 degrees,” Richardson informed CBS News in August 2017. “It wouldn’t take very long to start a fire if conditions were right; [it just] depends on how focused that beam of light is.” There was something else he wanted to make clear to the public, too.
Richardson added, “The air temperature doesn’t matter. [The plastic bottle] works just like a magnifying glass – like one that you would use to burn leaves as a kid. It’s the same principle.” Ultimately, then, the Midwest City Fire Department produced its own video on the issue in order to further boost awareness.
That said, the fire department’s video differed slightly to that of Amuchastegui and his colleagues. In particular, Richardson chose not to burn a car seat, instead using a plain piece of paper for his demonstration – although the results were pretty much the same.
And after singeing a hole in the paper, Richardson makes some important points to the viewer. “A water bottle can start a fire,” he explains. “But while this paper did burn, I want you to keep a couple of things in mind. One: it’s about 450 degrees to burn this paper. Two: this was a clear bottle with a clear fluid in [it].”
That latter detail proves somewhat significant. “If this [bottle] was empty or partially filled, it probably wouldn’t have worked and magnified this,” Richardson adds. “So keep in mind that all the factors have to be in place to actually make this work.”
The Midwest City Fire Department subsequently uploaded the video onto its official Facebook page in August 2017. And this too generated a large response on social media, with the short clip going on to earn more than 100,000 views.
One individual also chose to back up Richardson’s findings in the comments section. “I truly believe it,” they wrote. “I learned a long time ago [that if] you put a drop of water on a piece of clear plastic, [it turns] it into a magnifying glass!”
Yet, as Richardson mentioned, keeping a plastic bottle in a hot car may not always prove dangerous. And the Midwest City Fire Department explained as much in a disclaimer to its Facebook post. “The likelihood of this happening in a vehicle and sustaining a fire is probably very small,” the message read. “We do not endorse or condone this activity. This was conducted in a controlled environment for demonstration purposes only!”
Regardless, concerns over the safety of such a practice hit the headlines again ahead of 2018’s World Cup in Russia. To celebrate soccer’s biggest competition that summer, a local business named Holy Water had started to stock commemorative bottles of water, with the special plastic containers shaped in the form of soccer balls.
However, in May 2018 a Russian YouTube user uploaded a clip to the video-sharing site that showcased the damage these bottles could do in the sun – from setting a box of matches alight to burning a hole in a laminate floor. Since then, the short clip has had more than 640,000 views.
But despite the apparent dangers of keeping plastic bottles in the sun, Richardson continued to assure the public that this shouldn’t be cause for panic. “It’s not a crisis,” he told CBS News. “We don’t know of this happening or becoming a contributing factor of car fires in our district, but the potential does exist.”