April 11, 2009 in Washington Voices

One injured, motorhome ruined after fire ignited in carburetor

By The Spokesman-Review
 
J. BART RAYNIAK photo

Spokane Valley Fire Department firefighters responded to bales of burning cardboard and plastic waiting to be recycled behind the Trading Co. Store at McDonald Road and Sprague Avenue April 8.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Shade tree mechanics of a certain age know that vehicles with carburetors sometimes can be started by pouring some fuel down the throat of the carburetor.

The trick is to use only a small amount and to stand back. Having a fire extinguisher handy also is a good idea, according to Deputy Fire Marshal Bill Clifford of the Spokane Valley Fire Department.

Since a carburetor belched flames and destroyed a motorhome Tuesday, sending an amateur mechanic to a hospital with burns, Clifford has some new pump-priming advice: “Put Valley Fire on standby.”

Clifford said the incident at 3710 N. Edgerton Road, reported shortly before 9 p.m., was still under investigation late this week. However, he said the design of the motorhome made the attempt to prime the carburetor particularly hazardous.

Access to the engine was from inside the passenger compartment. Clifford said volatile fumes could accumulate inside such a vehicle, increasing the likelihood of a flash fire or explosion, especially if the engine backfires.

A state Department of Transportation worker used a portable extinguisher to knock down a fire inside the dashboard of a 1996 Mazda 626 that stopped at the westbound Pines Road off-ramp of Interstate 90 about 10:45 a.m. March 27. No one was injured.

The incidents were among 407 calls the fire department received in a two-week period ending Wednesday night. There were 23 reports of structure fires, including a smoky fire behind the Trading Co. grocery store at 13014 E. Sprague Ave. about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The building’s paint was scorched, but damage was limited to four compressed bales of cardboard and one of plastic products that were waiting to be recycled. Five trucks from four stations responded when store personnel, alerted by a customer, called for help.

Clifford said the fire was suspicious, and asked anyone with information to call the fire department at (509) 928-1700.

Perhaps the most perplexing call for firefighters was a March 31 lightning strike at the edge of a patio outside a condominium building in the 23000 block of East Mocha Lane in Liberty Lake.

A bolt from an afternoon thunderstorm shattered a corner of the concrete patio, blew up a ceramic “chimney” patio warmer and melted a plastic fence. Then the powerful surge of electricity somehow entered a natural gas line and traveled up the building, triggering several electrical circuit breakers and causing minor damage to three residences, Clifford said.

A window blind was melted when its metal mounting bracket, along with a door lock, were scorched when they were electrified. Similar damage was noted throughout the building, and firefighters had to check for hidden fires that might be smoldering inside walls, Clifford said.

A satellite dish’s roof-level control box was damaged because of a ground wire that was intended to channel electricity away from the dish in case it were struck by lightning. The ground wire worked in reverse, carrying electricity to the dish.

Clifford said the ground wire was improperly attached to a natural gas line, a fire code violation that has since been corrected.

In other calls, firefighters responded to 25 mostly false automatic alarms, 120 medical emergencies, two minor hazardous-materials reports and 24 vehicle accidents that sent seven people to hospitals with head, neck and back pain.

Also, Clifford said there were three illegal trash fires, including a large one at 1022 N. Greenacres Road that remained under investigation late this week.

Four calls for general service included young children accidentally locked in a couple of cars and an infant who was locked inside an apartment when a door accidentally closed behind a parent. Clifford said firefighters went through an open second-story window to rescue the infant.


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