TJ Stevens was shopping at Bulk Barn across the street from the Walmart on Richelieu Street when another customer alerted him to a plume of heavy black smoke rising from the parking lot around 2:30 p.m.
“I initially thought it was a car smoking right beside mine,” said Stevens. “But when I got out of the store it was obviously mine.”
Stevens rushed to where he parked his 10-year-old Toyota Sienna mini-van to find the engine block engulfed in flames. With the fire department already called, Stevens attempted to open the trunk and remove some of his belongings, including the car-seats and booster-seats for his five young children.
“Luckily it was just me,” said Stevens. “What if I had left the car on and left the kids behind?”
Driving in from Wendover for groceries, Stevens did not note anything strange about the vehicle’s operation. According to him the vehicle was not overheating, did not smell of smoke and the air conditioning was working normally. Stevens stated the van had just been serviced in recent months.
Working as a headmaster at a private catholic school in Ottawa, Stevens not only needs the family vehicle for his daily commute but to take his five kids to their various activities.
Police and the Clarence-Rockland Fire Department responded to the incident around 3:00 p.m. Firefighters extinguished the blaze, but not until after several of the windows blew out, tires popped and airbags were set off. Police stated they had no reason to believe anything suspicious took place.
Due to the intensity of the fire the cause could not be determined, a common outcome of car fire investigations, according to Clarence-Rockland Fire Chief Mario Villeneuve. The Clarence-Rockland Fire Department responds to an average of 10 to 15 car fires annually.
“Car fires are not more common at any particular time of year,” said Chief Villeneuve, noting cars set on fire for any number of reasons including mechanical issues or being plugged in over the winter.
The fire department advises residents to not leave people or pets unattended in a vehicle and to ensure they have a functioning ABC fire extinguisher and first-aid kit on hand.