Local resident has close-up view of ‘ball of fire’ on I-81

Posted: May 22, 2013

The Winchester Star

A Volkswagen Beetle caught fire and Interstate 81 northbound was closed for a time early Monday evening while Frederick County fire and rescue extinguished the blaze. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — The last thing Paula Yost was expecting to see while cleaning her back porch Monday was a great ball of fire near the interstate.

“I heard this loud noise and it almost sounded like a car wreck,” she said Tuesday. “I looked down and I saw this huge, almost what looked like a ball of fire.”

Within throwing distance of her backyard, a VW Beetle had caught fire on the side of Interstate 81 northbound, near mile marker 313 (Millwood Pike exit).

“It was like watching a movie,” Yost said, recalling large flames and thick, black smoke rolling from the vehicle. “I’ve never seen anything like that before, [it] was really unbelievable.”

Stephens City Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company Assistant Chief John Jones said the driver of the car pulled off the road after noticing smoke coming out of the vehicle.

By the time he pulled over and got out of the Beetle, it was engulfed in flames.

No injuries were reported, according to Jones.

He was unsure how long it took firefighters to get the blaze under control, but Yost recalled them battling flames over and over again.

“They had to fight that fire, I don’t know how many times,” she said. “It kept reigniting.”

Jones said that when the fire spread to the vehicle’s fuel tank, the blaze kept reigniting as the gasoline burned.

“That posed some problems,” he added.

To be safe, Jones said, the interstate was shut down for about 15 minutes.

Yost said she was impressed with the firefighters’ courage while attacking the blaze.

“I was worried about the distance I was from it,” she said, emphasizing that she couldn’t imagine being as close as the firefighters were.

She said the fire caused quite the spectacle, and that people gathered down her street watching the car burn.

“I was just keeping my fingers crossed that no one was in that vehicle,” Yost said.

Jones was unsure of the cause of the fire, but said that the vehicle was a total loss.

In addition to Stephens City Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, units from Millwood, Clear Brook, Clarke County and Winchester responded to the blaze.

— Contact Melissa Boughtonat mboughton@winchesterstar.com