The Time I Rescued People From a Burning Uhaul
About 7 years ago, I used to do something that I call “Astro-Camping” all the time. This would involve driving out to some remote, dark location on a moonless night with my telescope and looking at the stars, galaxies, and more. I would do this about once a month and it was nearly a religious experience for me, in many ways. Seeing the universe laid out before me, the stars, galaxies, and nebulae that make up the tapestry of the sky. The history of all matter and energy.
I always try to involve as many people as I can in the things I love to do. Sometimes, things I do aren't accessible to others, so I modify what I'm doing to try to make it more accessible.
Camping in the wilderness was, at that time in my life, something I was pretty comfortable with. I spent several nights sleeping under the stars with nothing more than a coat as a blanket and the grass as a cushion. I was always pretty chill about this stuff, but not all my friends were.
One friend I knew had health issues that would prevent her from being able to participate in more extreme camping. So on this particular camping trip, I rented one of those big RV camper things so she'd have a real kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom to hang out in, away from the elements.
It was pricey AF, but it got her and her BF to come along and check out the stars with us!
Our campground would be Corn Springs Campground, roughly 10 hours of driving south of us.
The camping was amazing, and we all had a blast making breakfast, looking at stars, etc. I even got to see the spiral arms of the spiral galaxy that time! It was amazing!
As we began the journey back, we were all filled with wonder and delight and happily smiling to ourselves after spending a night in the wilderness looking at shiny pretties.
We were traveling north on I-5, climbing up the southern side of the Grapevine. For those that may not know, this is the road up into the mountains that line the northern part of the valley that Los Angeles exists within.
It was night time, and we were in the right lane, as we had this big ol' RV thing we were driving. In front of us was a Uhaul driving slowly in our lane, even more slowly than us. I moved left a lane to pass it.
I noticed something... sparks? IDK... while we were behind the Uhaul, but I couldn't really tell what it was until we pulled up alongside it.
The uhaul was towing a small car behind it, and sparks were shooting out of its rear driver's side wheel.
I was focused on driving, so I didn't think of what to do, but one of my friends ( @LesDragon@beach.city actually) looked out the window, saw the sparks, and screamed “Their car is on fire!”
She rolled her window down and yelled at the folks that their car was on fire and tried to wave them down. They didn't seem to get what was going on. So... I made a quick decision and ran them off the road.
Basically, I pulled in front of them and forced them to come to a stop. We all jumped out of the RV and ran towards them screaming about their car. It was around this time that I finally got to see what was really going on.
I learned later that the car had been sitting for a long time. And as a result, the wheels had somewhat rotted. What we saw is that the tire had deflated, and they were dragging the car on its rim. The sparks had ignited the tattered remains of the wheel, and the entire thing was on fire now.
While they tried to figure out what to do, I ran into the RV and grabbed the fire extinguisher that came with the RV. I gave it to the folks so they could try to extinguish the flames.
The fire didn't change. There was too much going on. As we watched, the flames grew and grew. The car went up faster than I could imagine. We kept stepping back more and more.
The couple was terrified. As the flames grew higher, they explained their situation.
They were a young couple recently married, leaving behind a dead-end life in Las Vegas to move to Oakland and start anew. Everything they owned was in that Uhaul. The car was a wedding gift from their in-laws.
They had never done anything like this before, so they had the old tires and a full tank of gas in the car. And that full tank of gas was clearly not helping things, as the car rapidly was engulfed in flames.
The poor couple was so distraught. Everything they owned was in there, and they kept trying to run back in to rescue some property or something. But the speed with which the flames were growing was so fast. If they ran back in, it could spread and hurt them.
My friend physically restrained them from running back multiple times saying “Your life isn't worth it! Don't do it!” They listened, thank goodness. And they didn't run back in. We just sat there helplessly watching as the flames grew and grew.
Eventually, the car was a roaring fire, and the uhaul itself started to catch on fire. It was at this point that I noticed that the grass around us had started burning.
I recently learned about how fast grassfires could spread, and I knew that the burning grass had potential to make the situation even worse. I sprang to action and shouted for everyone to get on the RV and I drove us a few hundred yards away so that we'd be safe in the event the fires suddenly spread further and caught us and our RV off guard.
It was around then that the fire department finally showed up and started putting things out. We slowly walked back to the scene.
The fire department put out the fire and got everything under control. It was around this time that I learned about the full tank of gas. The car was a wreck, and the uhaul had been damaged, but their stuff inside was mostly safe.
With everything under control, we left them by the side of the road, them tearfully thanking us for helping them out.
We drove away to the next rest stop, pulled off, and all of us just started crying together from what had just happened.
Things I learned:
- Always put new tires on your car if you're towing it any long distance.
- Always empty the gas tank when towing a car any appreciable distance.
- RV companies will not charge you for using a fire extinguisher in an emergency
In the end, we were all rattled, but we felt good knowing that we had probably saved these folks from losing all the stuff in their uhaul in addition to their car.