HURRICANE — A Jeep Cherokee caught fire twice Sunday morning, causing ammunition and the fuel tank to ignite at the bottom of a sandy ravine south of the intersection of state Route 7 and Sand Hollow Road.
Just before 8:30 a.m., Washington County Search and Rescue Commander Casey Lofthouse was driving his Jeep Cherokee with his dog on the back dirt roads south of Sand Hollow Reservoir. After climbing a sand dune and then descending down it, Lofthouse said his Jeep died.
Lofthouse stopped at the bottom of the sandy ravine and said he heard a boom sound from his engine.
“Snap of the fingers, boom, just like that, it went up in flames,” Lofthouse said. “I grabbed my phone and my rifle and jumped out. I opened the door and took a big hack of smoke and thought ‘forget this’ and ditched all my stuff.”
Smoke billowed from the Jeep and it became engulfed in flames.
Lofthouse used his Jeep for Search and Rescue volunteering and it contained rescue gear, 72 hour kits, ropes and tools. Lofthouse said the Jeep went up in flames so fast, he was unable to salvage any of it.
After the Jeep caught fire, boxes of ammunition in the glove box ignited and began to blow up and ricochet, he said.
Projectiles ignited outside of a firearm have significantly less velocity than ammunition being released by the pull of a trigger, Washington County Sheriff Sgt. Dave Crouse said. However, it was still capable of causing injury.
Lofthouse said he jumped out of the vehicle and backed away from the Jeep while the ammunition went off. He hiked to the top of a hill to get cell phone service and was able to call 911. While he was familiar with the back roads, the exact GPS coordinates were obtained by the dispatch operator via his cell phone.
Hurricane Police officers, Hurricane Fire Department and Washington County Sheriff deputies responded to the scene.
“There were all sorts of explosions,” Lofthouse said. ” I had a spare tire, a full-sized spare tire, that blew up — six tires blew up. I also had a bottle of starting fluid in there that exploded too.”
Because of the remote area where the Jeep sat, fire trucks were not able to make it to the location of the Jeep. Deputies let the initial fire burn out.
At approximately 9:11 a.m., the Jeep caught fire a second time and the gas tank ignited which caused a loud boom, Crouse said, and after the fire died out, firefighters hit the remaining hot spots with a fire extinguisher.
Life safety is priority number one, Crouse said, then once everyone is safe, the threat of the fire expanding becomes priority.
“I knew when it started it was going to burn,” Lofthouse said. “It happens fast. Be ready. When you play hard sometimes things go up in smoke.”
This report is based on preliminary information provided by responders on scene and may not contain the full scope of findings.
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