A Pittsfield man has been killed after a fire in his Chevy Monte Carlo. This car has a long history with engine fires | Berkshires Center

PITTSFIELD — Mechanical problems were the cause of the fatal car fire Wednesday morning near downtown Pittsfield, according to the Massachusetts Fire Department.

State Office fire investigators found the fire was ‘not suspicious in nature’ and was ’caused by overheating or mechanical failure’ in a 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo in the parking lot of Livingston Apartments on East and Second streets, according to Jake Wark, the public information officer for the Department of Fire Services said.

The “fire spread from the exterior undercarriage of the car,” Wark said.

Police and firefighters responding to calls for smoke from the Monte Carlo around 8.40am Wednesday found Barry Dunnells, 69, of Pittsfield, incapacitated in the vehicle.

Pittsfield firefighters said while working to free Dunnells from the car, the Monte Carlo’s fuel line broke and allowed fuel to flow under a Honda Insight and a Hyundai Tucson parked nearby which eventually caught fire as well.

Dunnells was transported to Berkshire Medical Center, where he later died. The cause of death is under investigation by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

A Pittsfield man who was pulled from a burning car on Wednesday has died

Wark said in Massachusetts, car fires are largely down. By 1990, the state had reported 8,000 car fires. By 2020, that number had dropped by almost 75% to 2,200 car fires.

“About 20 percent of car fires in Massachusetts each year are caused by some form of mechanical failure,” Wark said. “Regular maintenance is the best way to prevent them. Most vehicle fires actually happen in the warmer months rather than the colder months.”

Nationally, fires are a well-documented problem with 2002 Monto Carlos. The model has been part of three separate General Motors recalls for a faulty valve cover gasket that, over time, allows oil to leak into and onto the exhaust manifold, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.

The oil can ignite and spread from the exhaust manifold to the rest of the engine.

General Motors first issued a recall in 2008 for approximately 200,000 vehicles with this design, then followed with another recall in 2009. The company did not fully remove defective parts in the first two recalls. according to Associated Press declaration since 2015.

General Motors told the AP at the time that some 1,300 cars repaired during the recall caught fire anyway. The new batch of fires prompted a follow-up investigation by NHTSA and the recall of 1.4 million vehicles with the engine fault in 2015.

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