A worried mum has detailed the terrifying moment her son's car seat "almost caught fire" while attempting to strap him in – and a small mirror attached to the passenger seat in front could be to blame.
Emma Flanigan from Albion Park in Shellharbour, New South Wales, said she had "no idea" of the potential danger reflective items pose until her three-year-old's seat started smoking before her eyes.
The 32-year-old told Yahoo News Australia that she'd been inside Keenan's daycare for roughly twenty minutes on Monday afternoon, and while the sun was out, it wasn't hot, she said.
"I came back to the car, put my child in the car seat and noticed there was smoke, so I pulled him out and put him on the ground behind me," she explained.
Mum 'saw a light' reflecting off the seat
The panicked mum said she looked around the car but couldn't see anything that could cause a fire. But she could see a light on the seat where the smoke was coming from.
"Like a mirror ball or a magnifying glass," she explained to Yahoo, but she "didn't even think about the mirror on the back of the head rest".
Ms Flanigan said the smoke continued and she began to smell it.
"I quickly rubbed it out with my hand as fast as I could," she said. "Then I poured water on it."
Ms Flanigan shared a photo of her car seat on Facebook as a warning to other parents, and she also hoped to get some answers as to what could have caused it.
In the photo there's a visible burn mark on the armrest of the seat.
Many questioned whether the seat was in direct sunlight, and she revealed it was "but not for long".
"If I was any longer in the daycare centre I'm sure it would of [sic] been well alight," she wrote online.
Others said it was "scary" but said it likely had nothing to do with the seat itself, just its positioning in the sun.
Mirror could have caused the smoke
Ms Flanigan said it wasn't until she read some comments later that night that she really considered the mirror was to blame.
"I thought 'maybe, I’ll have to check in the morning if the mirror is in' and I had put the mirror back in," she said to Yahoo News, explaining she often takes it out.
The running theory is that the sunlight reflected off the mirror and onto the seat, and the direct heat caused the fabric to burn – although this can't be proven.
Ms Flanigan confirmed to Yahoo News "the sun was coming directly through the back left window and straight in onto the mirror," and despite having "maximum tint" on her windows, she's convinced that's what's happened.
Mum told mirror was 'highly unlikely'
The mum-of-one pointed out that her Britex car seat is made from fabric that has flame retardant properties, which prevents it from catching on fire. This is up to Australian standards.
Ms Flanigan has also followed care instructions set out by the company and has never washed the car seat cover in hot water, or used detergent.
Following the incident, she contacted the company but claimed she was told it's "highly unlikely" the sun or mirror is to blame.
Yahoo News Australia understands that Britax has never had a situation where a seat has caught on fire and without further investigation, there's no way of knowing exactly what caused the smoke.
The company supposedly suggested to Ms Flanigan that an ember could have landed on the seat, causing it to burn.
But Ms Flanigan rejected such claims saying no one smokes in the car, it's just her and her son, and there were no lighters or matches around to spark a flame.
Thankfully, the car seat was able to be saved. Ms Flanigan received a replacement car seat cover for a discounted price.
'Extremely rare' incident, but 'can't be ruled out'
A spokesperson for Kidsafe Australia told Yahoo News Australia that "such an incident is extremely rare but can’t be ruled out".
"It is a warning to drivers, parents and carers to check that there is no mirror, glass or magnifying item that could inadvertently focus sunlight onto any part of the vehicle’s interior," they said.
"These might include any reflective surfaces such as play mirrors, screens, hanging crystals, or even reading glasses."
Kidsafe Australia said it's important for such items to be covered or placed securely in a compartment.
Additionally, child car seats that meet the Australian Standard must meet flammability requirements.
"This can also be a cautionary tale about how hot cars can get inside and so always check ambient temperature, buckles and any fixtures that may come in contact with your child to make sure they don’t get scalded or suffer heat stress," they said.
Ms Flanigan also offered a word of advice for other parents.
"Watch out for the mirrors or anything that could reflect," she said. "Take them out when you’re in your car."
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.