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Their Nissan SUV was parked in the driveway. Then it caught fire and exploded

A Nissan SUV was parked in the driveway and then it caught fire and exploded. (Philip Hill via CNN Newsource) A Nissan SUV was parked in the driveway and then it caught fire and exploded. (Philip Hill via CNN Newsource)
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In the early morning of May 14, Vicki Hill was startled awake by the sound of explosions outside her home in Bethesda, Md. The loud bangs, she learned later, had come from the airbags of the family’s SUV, a 2015 Nissan Murano that was parked in the driveway. It was on fire.

“I thought someone was trying to get into our house with a sledgehammer and I woke my husband up and I said something’s wrong,” she told CNN. “And he ran downstairs and shouted up, ‘Call 911, the car’s on fire!’”

Video from the home’s doorbell camera, which the family provided to CNN, shows smoke before the fire erupts and then engulfs the car.

The cause of the fire in the Murano remains unknown. The fire is under investigation by Nissan. The National Highway Traffic Administration is gathering information on the fire, as well.

“The safety and security of our customers is our primary concern,” a Nissan spokesperson said in a statement in response to an email asking about the fire. “We have opened an investigation into this incident.”

The Hills’ Murano was recalled by Nissan in 2016 and 2019, to fix a problem that could allow brake fluid to leak and start a fire, even while the vehicle is parked. At the time, owners were warned to park their vehicles outside and away from buildings until the issue was repaired because of fire risks.

A search on NHTSA’s website indicated there was an outstanding unrepaired recall on the Hills’ Murano. The couple said a local fire investigator suggested the unrepaired recall could have caused the fire. But the Hills remember getting the work done and provided CNN with a photograph of the receipt from a local Nissan dealership that showed the repair was made. CNN has not confirmed whether the receipt is authentic.

The Hills said that because the recall work had been done, the possibility of a fire wasn’t something that crossed their minds.

Philip Hill had been fixing the garage, so the couple’s two cars were parked in the driveway. Otherwise, the Murano would have been parked inside the garage adjoining the house.

“As you can see from the video, that vehicle is so close to the house,” Philip Hill told CNN. “Minutes later, the house could have gone up.”

As it was, the garage door melted from the flames, they said. The Hills credit a neighbour’s dog with saving them and their three children. The neighbour was able to call 911 before the Hills, after being alerted by her dog.

The intense flames from the burning Nissan also damaged the side of the family’s other car, a 2012 Mercedes C-class, leaving it unusable.

Initially, the Hills were concerned they might have been victims of vandalism. But they said the video footage from their Nest doorbell camera clearly showed the vehicle spontaneously combusting.

Nissan took possession of the Murano on Wednesday to study it more closely, the Hills said.

As surprising as the Hills’ situation may seem, vehicle fires are not uncommon. In 2022, an estimated 188,500 car and truck fires blazed in the United States, an average of more than 500 a day, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Vehicle fires caused 610 civilian deaths that year, according the NFPA.

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