Car fire provides a lesson and a show

March 3, 2012

A car fire near Wyeth Wednesday afternoon provided a nice show for passing vehicles on I-84 - and a lesson for people calling 9-1-1: Please know your approximate location.

Cascade Locks Fire and EMS, which covers I-84 from mileposts 31-56, was initially dispatched to milepost 33 after a caller gave that location for a burning car.

The car, which was being towed from Hood River to Portland, began smoking while it was connected in reverse to the tow truck.

Moments after Cascade Locks was dispatched, the correct information was received, but by that point fire crews were already on the freeway heading the wrong way.

"Originally the report was two miles east of Multnomah Falls," said Lt. Jess Zerfing. "But as soon as we got on the freeway we got a report it was by 51 so we got to Bonneville and turned around."

With the wet weather, and the fact that no one was in the vehicle, no mutual aid from West Side or Hood River Fire was called in and Cascade Locks arrived at the scene about 10 minutes later than they would have.

Zerfing and Cascade Locks Interim Administrative Chief Devon Wells said that if the fire had been in the middle of the summer, and carried the risk of spreading into wildland near the freeway, mutual aid assistance may have been called out.

In this case, Cascade Locks crews showed up to find the car fully engulfed, the gas tank having exploded moments before. However, the fire was quickly extinguished and within an hour the debris was cleaned up.

"It was a fairly run-of-the-mill vehicle fire," said Zerfing.

While only the car was destroyed in this case, Zerfing said Cascade Locks has had potentially more serious cases recently where the wrong address was also given to dispatchers.

Over the weekend, Cascade Locks was sent to respond to an accident just east of Multnomah Falls on I-84 eastbound. Instead, the accident was near the Bonneville Dam exit, and fire crews passed by on the other side of the freeway as they headed down the road.

"It's pretty common for people to not know where they are," he said. "Five miles we can work with, but 20 miles could be a big deal."

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