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Mysterious Car Fire
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© W.G. Leithhead

During our trip to Western Australia in Spring, 2001, I and my wife, Glenyce, came upon a car which had just burst into flames. This is the story of that experience.

As we were driving south between Mandurah and Bunbury, near the Myelup turnoff, I saw flame and smoke just off the road ahead. "Get the camera - quickly!", I called out to Glenyce. She frantically unbuckled and lunged across to the back seat where I always keep my camera ready for use, under a rug, but with the strap within reach for rapid access.
We cautiously drove past and pulled over at a safe distance ahead. I noted at once that the occupants were out and standing at a safe distance, so I sprinted cautiously to the scene with my trusty camera.

Although it had apparently not long been alight, the car was burning furiously, crackling, fizzing, and copiously emitting thick, black clouds of smoke.

It was, as you can see, an inferno!

Acutely aware of the hazard of an explosion, I nevertheless manoeuvred around the car, not wanting to miss such a dramatic photo opportunity. I knew that I must dodge the fumes, and explosions of tyres, gas cylinders, and the fuel tank. I was also likely to be run over, because traffic was still passing the burning car!

In this picture you can see, as I could, that there was a huge pool of burning petrol under the rear of the car, so I guessed that I was in little danger from that. The plastic fuel tank had ruptured harmlessly!

As I continued shooting, I noticed that my wife, Glenyce, had sprinted tentatively towards me, breathlessly shouting "Bill, come back, you bloody idiot! The fuel tank will explode - you'll get killed!" Bless her heart, she had been standing back, listening to other spectators say what a fool I was, and the danger that I was in. Carfire-D

By now, the car was enveloped by flame from the rear to the engine compartment, and in the throes of complete destruction. Carfire-E

I shuddered at the gruesome thought of chancing upon a fire like that with occupants still in the car. It would have been hopeless! Carfire-F

I seems that the family from the car had just pulled over when a passing car noticed smoke coming from their car boot. So they scrambled out, grabbing a few possessions such as a pram. There were two small children and their mother and father. They were returning from a holiday.

In this picture, part of a high-chair can be seen lying on the ground, at the lower right.

Meanwhile, as the fire progressed, so did the traffic. In this picture you can see a passenger bus passing by!

This picture was one of two that was printed on the front page of the local newspaper in Bunbury, because I sold all these pictures to them. Is this the start of my new career as an adventurous journalist?

Not so far!

By now, 45 minutes had elapsed; the car was still burning, and there was stll no sign of police or fire brigade! No one was directing traffic, which seemed to be looking after itself.

This picture shows, from the right, the mother, the father (car owner), and his two children, one in a pram, then Glenyce (my wife), and spectators.

Enter the heroic local Bush Fire Brigade, after all this time!           

Our intrepid heroes mainly stand and scratch their heads.

The gallant fireman rise to the challenge and tentatively train a feeble-looking stream of water from their hose.

I'm given to think that many of us could generate a better stream than that given the right circumstances!

Well - I suppose it's the thought that counts.

At last, the professionals arrive, after 50 minutes. It's all over bar the shouting; there's nothing left but cleaning-up and a bit of traffic direction - oh - and a call to the tow-truck boys! Carfire-L

On speaking to the family involved, I hear that they were returning from a holiday, and that they lost all their holiday clothes, toys, camera, wallet, and so on. The car had been bought second-hand in the previous week, and was not insured!

They politely refused any help from us, such as a rest in our van, and perhaps a drink, and the use of our phone. They started walking along the road, pram and all, and were expecting to be picked up soon by some friends from Bunbury.

All in all, this encounter left us with many puzzling aspects of the situation unresolved. Where did they buy the car? Why didn't they insure it? Why were they apparently so unaffected by the incident? What caused the fire? How long did it burn before detection? What would they do next?

It seems that Glenyce and I will never know the answers to these intriguing questions. It was quite an adventure, and I did get paid with $60 worth of film from the local newspaper. Which was very nice!

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