Hybrid Car Battery Eyed in Texas House Fire

(Reuters) -- A house fire that destroyed a $100,000-plus Fisker Karma near Houston last week does not appear to have been caused by the plug-in hybrid's lithium-ion battery pack, Fisker Automotive said in a statement on Tuesday.

Local officials and insurance companies are investigating the cause of the May 3 fire, which originated in the garage of a newly built home in Sugar Land, Texas. Two other cars in the garage were also destroyed.

"There are conflicting reports and uncertainty surrounding this particular incident," Fisker said. "The cause of the fire is not yet known and is being investigated."

After the fire, the Karma's battery was intact, suggesting it was not a "contributing factor," Fisker said. The Karma was not plugged in at the time.

Fisker said it has not ruled out possible fraud or malicious intent. Fire officials and investigators are examining an electrical panel in the garage, Fisker said, adding that it was "aware" of fireworks in the garage.

In recent months, Fisker has fielded tough questions about the reliability of the Karma after a spate of high-profile battery problems. No fires or injuries have been tied to the Karma battery, which is built by A123 Systems.

In March, a Karma battery failed during a test conducted by Consumer Reports magazine. Fisker recalled 239 Karma cars in December to fix a battery defect that raised the risk of a fire.

Robert Baker, the chief fire investigator for Fort Bend County, Texas, could not be reached. He told AutoWeek magazine that the Karma was in flames less than three minutes after the driver pulled into the garage.

The safety of electric car batteries has been in the spotlight since last year when U.S. safety regulators opened an investigation into General Motors Co's Chevrolet Volt after some battery packs caught fire during testing.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed the probe in January, saying that electric cars do not pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered cars.

NHTSA is in contact with local authorities about the Karma fire, the agency said in a statement.

"I've worked homicide scenes with less secrecy," Baker told AutoWeek. "There have to be about 15 engineers down here working on this one."

(Reporting By Deepa Seetharaman in Detroit; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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