This weekend while driving in Pasadena I turned the corner and saw a plume of smoke. An SUV in a parking lot had flames erupting from the hood. No one was visible anywhere nearby.
I pulled over across the street, grabbed my fire extinguisher, and ran to the crosswalk. Two security guards ran up from the general direction of the burning SUV, and began stopping traffic.
I ran up to one and said, "Is anyone inside that vehicle?"
He said, "No. And I don't think you should get near it-- a fire truck is on its way, and that fire is getting bigger by the second."
I retreated across the street. There was a loud explosion from the SUV. The whole thing became enveloped in flames. The fire truck pulled up and extinguished it. They broke the windows and opened the doors, and smoke billowed out in great gray puffs. I then had a very bad moment when it occurred to me that I should have asked the guard the follow-up question, "Did you check?" But the firefighters didn't pull anyone out and I waited for quite a while, so I assume there had not been anyone inside.
When I later recounted this to Adrian (who is still in Denver), it occurred to me that perhaps burning vehicles are less uncommon than I imagined, and it is not so odd that I would have encountered this phenomenon three times.
"How many burning vehicles have you seen in your life?" I asked him.
"None," he replied. "So I leave for a week, and you get an earthquake and a flaming SUV... you just can't be left alone, can you?"
Public service announcement # 1: Vehicles do not normally catch fire following a crash! If a crashed vehicle is not burning and there are no other urgent safety hazards, do not attempt to extract the occupants or exit the vehicle! Crash victims should stay where they are and not move until medical personnell can make sure their spines are stabilized.
Public service announcement # 2: If a vehicle is already burning, especially if the engine is on fire, be aware that the fire can and probably will spread really fucking quickly.
(This goes for non-vehicular fires as well.) I've now seen this happen twice. Get the hell out or get anyone inside out as fast as you can.
Scientific Livejournal Poll!( Burning vehicle poll )