Vehicular fires continue in Vietnam, still puzzling

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The mysterious fire that plagued tens of vehicles in Vietnam last year has shown no sign of stopping, as two motorbikes and two minibuses were burned on the first two days of the new year.

A report on VnExpress Monday said two minibuses in the northern province of Tuyen Quang were totally damaged in a flame at around 3 a.m. Monday.

The article quoted locals of Yen Son District as saying that they heard a big explosion from My Lam Tea Joint-stock Co. while they were sleeping. When they rushed out of their houses, they saw two minibuses of Manh Vinh Transport Co. that were parked in front of the tea company on fire.

On New Year's Day, a motorbike caught fire in Ho Chi Minh City, prompting a man and his wife to jump off it. The couple were not injured.

The man told police that he bought the bike, which was produced in China, four years ago for VND6.5 million (US$309).

Initial information indicated that the incident was probably caused by electrical leakage, police said.

That same day, another motorbike, a Chinese-produced Wave, also caught fire in the southern province of Ba Ria Vung Tau, when its owner was opening the under-seat storage to fill the bike's gasoline tank.

Witnesses said the gasoline station's staff had to push the bike away from fuel tanks before extinguishing the fire.

Last year it was estimated that at least 18 vehicular fires and explosions occurred across the country. The fires were not exclusive to any particular brand, but occurred in various Honda, SYM, and BMW models, said the Ministry of Public Security.

Most of the cases remain unsolved so far, including the explosion of a Honda Dream that killed a woman and her daughter in northern Vietnam on December 1.

Fuel in focus 

In related news, authorities in the north-central province of Quang Tri have ordered the provincial Department of Science and Technology to work with police and other related agencies to scrutinize local fuel traders' operations.

The order came in response to suspicions that recent vehicular fires have been caused by poor-quality gasoline.

On December 31, a Ford Escape in the province's Dong Ha Town caught fire, critically injuring two people.

Last week the suspicion raised by local experts also prompted the Directorate for Standards, Metrology and Quality, Vietnam's quality watchdog, to take samples of gasoline related to the cases and at random stations for tests.

However, so far all the samples, except those taken from the Hanoi-based Mai Dich Gasoline Station, met regulated safety standards, said Tran Van Vinh, deputy chief of the directorate

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On December 30, the samples taken from Mai Dich Station, an agent of Military Petroleum Co., were found containing methanol with the concentration of 15.8 percent as compared to the regulated 0.5 percent.

Together with acetone and ethanol, methanol is being suspected of causing vehicular fires. Experts said the additives increase gasoline's combustion but are corrosive to rubber materials. Thus, they will allow fuel to leak and ignite.

Following the findings, Vuong Dinh Dung, director general of Military Petroleum Co., said it has terminated its contract with Mai Dich, one of the company's major agents, as of January 1.

According to Dung, the tests by the directorate's office QUATEST I found nothing wrong with the samples taken from other stations.

Dung, however, stressed it was possible that the recent fires and explosions were caused by various factors, not gasoline quality only.

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