Rental Jeep bursts into flames

WAILUA — Cruising up Loop Road in his convertible on a mission to see more of Kaua‘i’s spectacular waterfalls, Steven LaWall didn’t expect to encounter a Jeep engulfed in flames Sunday afternoon.

The Flagstaff, Ariz., resident had just crossed the Wailua Stream near the Keahua Arboretum when someone stopped him on the dirt road to alert him of the emergency situation up ahead involving a family of four visitors.

“It was an enormous spectacle,” LaWall said. “It was like a giant torch with flames shooting up 10 to 15 feet high.”

The driver, his wife and their two children escaped unscathed, county officials said.

After calling 911 for help, LaWall said he waited with others who had gathered.

“I started to photograph it; that’s all I do all day anyway here in Hawai‘i,” LaWall said, noting he had just extended his stay at an Eastside hotel.

LaWall said the driver of the Jeep told him he was heading up the hill on Loop Road when he heard something blow up under the hood and the vehicle started to catch on fire.

“It was such a beautiful place and then there was this toxic smoke billowing up,” he said. “You could smell it. It’s nasty.”

The gas tank exploded and the tires burst one by one as the flames engulfed the Jeep, LaWall said.

“Then it was shooting out like welding sparks; it looked like fireworks,” he said.

A child ran relatively close at one point to take a picture of the flames.

“The public wasn’t really looking at it like a danger,” LaWall said.

Other vehicles coming back down the road simply drove around the flaming Jeep, he said, “totally endangering themselves.”

When emergency responders arrived, they worked to extinguish the blaze using water and foam, LaWall said.

Firefighters from the Kapa‘a station responded to the 1:03 p.m. alarm and the fire was snuffed by 1:56 p.m., county officials said.

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