One summer we were vacationing in California with our car and holiday trailer. In addition, our two kids were of elementary school age. We had just finished breakfast on this day. Locating a gas station, we gassed up the car and were about a half hour drive north from San Francisco. At this moment, we were unaware that we would experience having a pending car fire tragedy averted.
I glanced down at the instrument panel, as I always do on a regular basis. I noticed the gas gauge registering only 3/4 full. That was very strange as I had just filled the tank only 1/2 hour earlier. Therefore, I looked at the fuel gauge again as I continued to drive. I realized it was now at 1/2 tank. Immediately my focus was on the fuel gauge now. Continuing to watch the gauge, I noticed that I could actually see it moving towards empty. Consequently, I pulled the car and trailer off to the side of the freeway and stopped.
After that, I lifted the hood and was met with flames emanating from the engine. I grabbed the fire extinguisher and told my wife to get our two kids out of the car. The fire extinguisher very quickly expended itself, but the flames continued to burn. Grabbing a blanket from the back seat of the car, I tried to smother the flames, but to no avail. Similarly, knowing that it was a gasoline fire, I didn’t want to use water from the trailer. Water would spread the spilt gasoline and flames all around. However, what do I do? There were two full propane tanks at the front of the trailer. Above all, if the fire reached them, everything would blow up in a total disaster.
As a last resort, I got some water from the trailer anyway and quickly poured it over the engine. To my utter surprise, the flames diminished and slowly went out. Stepping back to review the situation, I realized fire engines were arriving from both directions. Coincidentally, a couple of truckers passing by had called local fire departments. Three different fire departments responded and arrived at the same time. They immediately came to my aide and made sure the fire was completely out. They also called a tow truck to pull my totally disabled car, minus the trailer, to a local garage. My wife and kids stayed with the trailer waiting for my return.
Arriving at the local garage, I was informed that I could park my car on their premises. However, they couldn’t do any repairs until next Tuesday; today was Saturday. The garage attendant told me that if I wanted to try and make repairs myself, to go ahead. He also said there was a parts store about 2 blocks away that would be closing in one hour.
Having grown up on a farm in Alberta, I was very familiar with automotive tools and how to use them. I made it a practice to carry a small tool box with me when on vacation for emergencies. So, I lifted the car hood again and proceeded to check out the damage. I was shocked at what I found. The engine head cover gaskets, air filter, spark plug wires, power steering hoses, radiator hoses, engine vacuum hoses, the main engine wiring harness and speedometer cable were all completely burnt.
Making a quick list of parts, I scrambled to the local parts store and told them of my situation. The attendant quickly gathered up the parts for me. He told me that if I worked quickly, he would wait for an additional hour in case I needed something else. Thanking him, I hurried back to the car and started to work feverishly. Eventually, it looked like I had everything completed, so I turned the key and started the engine.
After that, perusing my handiwork, I noticed a stream of gasoline spraying from the fuel pump directly onto the exhaust manifold. In horror, I immediately shut off the engine. Removing the fuel pump, I rushed back to the parts store again which, I now discovered, was closed!
Pounding on the door, the attendant finally came out from the back and let me in. Lucky for me, he had the proper replacement fuel pump. I hurried back to the car and installed it. This time, when I started the car, everything seemed to work properly and I was really pleased with my accomplishment. Of course, the engine was still covered with fire retardant, oil and other crud which needed to be cleaned. Finding a local hand operated car wash, I washed off the engine, car body and I was ready to go!
Driving back onto the highway, I finally got back to my abandoned trailer, wife and kids. Hitching up the trailer, we proceeded to continue on our way. We found the next camp spot and relaxed for the evening.
In conclusion, recounting the events of the day, my wife and I were amazed at how lucky we were to have our car fire tragedy averted!