David Nelson was going to take his 1989 Ford Aerostar to the dealer Wednesday to have the ignition switch replaced as part of a massive recall.
He can cancel the appointment.
A blaze that a fire department inspector thinks started in the ignition switch destroyed the two-tone, beige and brown minivan Friday, just a few blocks from Nelson’s Spokane Valley home.
Nelson, driving the vehicle when it caught fire, was not hurt. He said he’s never had problems with the minivan, which he bought in Alaska.
“It’s been a wonderful car,” he said.
Last month, Ford Motor Co. recalled nearly 8 million cars, light trucks and minivans, including the 1989 Aerostar, because the ignition switches in more than 800 of the vehicles caused fires.
Ford spokeswoman Francine Romine said Friday’s blaze was the first one reported since the recall and the first she’d heard of in a long time.
Romine said Ford would work closely with Nelson to see his car is replaced.
“He’s obviously going to be covered,” she said from Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.
Nelson, 50, said his appointment to have the ignition replaced at McCollum Ford in the Valley was prompted by the recall.
“I had the vents open. I thought it was coming in from outside,” Nelson said.
He drove about a block farther when smoke began pouring from the steering column. Nelson said he pulled over as flames shot from the dashboard.
“I grabbed my key and jumped out,” he said. “It singed all the hair off my hand.”
A passer-by tried to put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher but couldn’t even slow the flames, Nelson said.
Before long, Nelson’s minivan was covered in flames. The thick black smoke could be seen from miles away.
“I watched it melt before my eyes,” Nelson said. “My whole car just dissolved.”
Joe Polello, an inspector for the county health district, stopped to help. He said he was amazed at how quickly the fire consumed the vehicle.
“It was awesome,” said Polello, who snapped some photographs of the fire and gave Nelson a ride back home. “When it was over, his car, it was just a piece of metal.”
Inspector Eric Olson of the Valley fire department investigated the blaze.
Olson said the fire apparently began in the steering column, not in the motor compartment, and spread quickly to the rest of the minivan.
“The thing just ate the whole van up,” he said. “He just didn’t make his recall appointment in time.”
Nelson said he was thankful he was driving at a relatively low speed when the blaze began.
“You can’t jump out going 50 or 60 miles per hour down the freeway,” he said. “It could have gotten me.”
Nelson encouraged people who own recalled cars or trucks to get them repaired quickly.
“This recall is a real, real thing,” he said. “I’m going to be afraid to drive for the rest of my life, the way that thing burned up so fast.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: RECALLED VEHICLES Ford Motor Co. is recalling nearly 8 million vehicles in the United States and Canada with ignition switches that may cause fires. The recall covers: 1988-90 Escorts; 1988-92 and some early 1993 Mustangs, Thunderbirds, Tempos and Mercury Cougars and Topazes; 1988-89 Crown Victorias and Mercury Gran Marquises; 1988-89 Lincoln Town Cars; 1988-91 Aerostar minivans; 1988-91 Broncos and F-series pickups; and 1988 EXPs. Ford asks that people call their dealers for an appointment to have the switches replaced.