Heat from the Dodge Charger ignited nearby brush after the vehicle became stuck in the mud.
Student Sophie Richmond said she thought she heard a bomb when fire engulfed a Public Safety vehicle’s gas tank on the night of Feb. 24.
Brush underneath the car ignited after the vehicle became stuck in mud behind the parking garage. The fire sourced from “radiated or conducting heat from operating equipment,” according to a Webster Groves Fire Department (WGFD) report.
Richmond was in the parking garage at the time of the fire.
“It was a pretty scary scene because we didn’t know if someone was in the car or not,” Richmond said.
The fire injured no one according to the report.
Public Safety routinely patrols the dirt and gravel road behind the parking garage on Garden Avenue.
The car became stuck during a patrol due to mud and heavy rains from the day before, Webster’s Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said.
Webster Groves Fire Chief Tom Yohe said vehicles trapped in snow or mud usually don’t cause concern for fire. The risk heightens only when the car is near flammable objects such as leaves or grass.
This winter’s tumultuous weather hasn’t brought a rise in stuck vehicles, Yohe said.
Public Safety attempted several times to free the car from the mud, Giblin said.
The officer in the car went back to the Public Safety office to oversee dispatch after he attempted to free it from the mud, Giblin said. Other officers continued with routine patrol. The same officer returned to the car 20 minutes later to find the car on fire, Giblin said. The WGFD report wrote that Webster Security Employee, Ryan Gibson, drove the car.
WGFD first arrived at 10:53 p.m. and cleared the scene at 11:42 p.m., according to the report.
Student Molly Duke said she was in the East Hall parking lot at the time of the fire. Her and another friend looked over and saw the fire over the bio-retention basin as they sat in Duke’s car.
“At first I thought, ‘what the heck?’ I couldn’t see the car at first,” Duke said. “When I realized it was a Public Safety car I was in shock.”
Duke said the vehicle fire spread to the trees above it as well. The fire burned vegetation around the area of the car.
Police remained on scene to await towing, according to the report.
Multiple other students and Duke captured the fire on Snapchat. Snapchat videos and photos show the majority of the car burned.