Twenty-foot flames burst from the charred remains of two cars early Thursday morning after a Christmas tree lodged beneath one of the cars caught fire.
Fire Dept. investigators quickly determined that arson was to blame for the inferno. At approximately 4 a.m. Thursday, nearly 50 onlookers watched as a Chevrolet Avalanche and a Toyota 4Runner exploded into flames outside a house on the 6700 block of Pasado. A third vehicle was damaged by radiant heat, and before the Fire Dept. could arrive, the blaze also burned down a power line. The destroyed power line resulted in an outage on the mountainside block of Pasado from 4 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday.
The two vehicles that exploded belonged to third-year business economics majors T.J. MacFarlane and Matt Hilton.
“There was a tree underneath my car,” Macfarlane, who believes the holiday foliage played a part in the explosion, said. “I definitely didn’t park on top of a Christmas tree.”
Although firemen pulled the burnt remnants of a Christmas tree out from under the destroyed Chevy Avalanche, authorities have not confirmed that this was the origin of the flames. The investigation is still ongoing, officials said.
Despite suspicions of arson, Macfarlane said he does not think that there was any motivation for targeting his car.
“I never really pissed anyone off,” he said. “I think it was just like ‘Oh, there’s a big car, let’s put a tree underneath and light it on fire.'”
Jonathon Leavy, a third-year business economics major and Macfarlane and Hilton’s roommate, watched as the flames destroyed the two vehicles.
“The tires were popping,” Leavy said. “The windows were exploding, there was glass in the yard. Then the telephone wires caught on fire and exploded and were sparking. It was like fireworks.”
Hilton said he was concerned the fire would spread and threaten nearby residences.
“The flames were so big,” Hilton said. “My first thoughts were ‘Oh, shit the house is going to catch on fire.’ We were probably out there a good hour before the flames were gone.”
Macfarlane said that by the time they realized what was happening, it was too late to save their vehicles from the blaze.
“By the time we even got outside, the flames were like 15 to 20 feet high,” Macfarlane said. “There was nothing we could do.”
Chuck Hages – a third-year chemical engineering major and fellow roommate – also witnessed the fire while waiting for the fire trucks to arrive.
“We were just standing there watching T.J.’s car burn for like 7 to 10 minutes,” Hages said. “And then we watched Matt’s car burn for like another five before any cops or firemen showed up. It was a total of like 15 minutes.”
Still, Macfarlane said he was thankful that the fire did not do more damage.
“It’s just a car,” he said. “It came pretty close to the house catching on fire. If it hadn’t rained that night it would have been a lot worse.”