Copyright 2014, Jules A. Staats; Library of Congress, USA.  All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. This work may be previewed only.

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The Auto on Fire?


Nacimiento Lake is a serene recreational park with a substantial size lake in the central part of California.  It is near the city of Paso Robles.  It is wide enough and twisted enough of a lake to entertain many water skiers to the present day.  This incident occurred during the summer of 1974 to an off-duty Deputy Sheriff as he returned home just before midnight with his family and his boat in tow.


Jay had recently renewed his marriage vows to his second wife with an old friend and Pastor to whom he had grown up with.  He felt that the Las Vegas wedding two years prior just needed to be redone right.

He had taken two extra days off from the Sheriff’s Department, allowing him to camp with his wife, his four children and her three children at this lake.  Also aboard the ten year old Chevy station wagon were a few ten to twelve year old school chums of his children.  Yes the station wagon was overloaded, but seat belt laws and passenger limits did not exist at this time.  And of course, the trusty eighteen foot inboard boat was following faithfully behind while attached to the trailer hitch.  The brake system of the station wagon was the old type drum system, and the boat was not required to have brakes due to the weight of the vehicle.  As a result Jay drove below the speed limit and exercised above average caution.  This made the trip home a long one.

They were almost home.  Jay mused: One more off-ramp to go, and cross Huntington Drive.  The house was only four blocks from the cross street. The long trip was finally over at last!

After several hours of carefully driving the long distance from Paso Robles, he felt that he could finally relax a bit as the last off ramp of the Interstate 210 freeway loomed in the distance.  He glanced at the clock on the dashboard.  It was almost twelve ‘o’clock.  He had to work the day shift the next day.  That thought of only a few hours before he went to work again started to bother him, shifting his concentration off of the highway.

Then he saw it, a car pulled over to the right side of the freeway.  The hood over the engine of this full size car was fully open and the engine compartment was on fire!  As he passed by, doing only 55 MPH, he exclaimed “Wow, car on fire!”  That woke everyone up, as they were drawn to the right windows by the huge and brilliant fire that was coursing from the engine compartment ten feet into the sky.

Jay, being a cop through and through, pressed the brake pedal hard even before he passed by the flaming car, noticing it took way too long to come to a complete stop.  He finally pulled the car and boat over into the right hand freeway shoulder about 200 feet ahead of the burning vehicle.  Grabbing the 2 ½ pound fire extinguisher from under the seat, he rushed on foot toward the car realizing that he could not put out the fire with this.  However he had used a small fire extinguisher twice before to pause a car blaze while he got the passengers out safely.  His son followed behind.

He started to pull the pin from the fire extinguisher as he came upon the vehicle but what he observed now caused him to just stand there like a statue.  The car was no longer on fire!  Having seen numerous car fires while working patrol, this was impossible!  Jay had also brought along a flashlight.  His beam of light confirmed the hard facts of what he was now seeing.  There was absolutely no evidence that any fire ever existed in the engine compartment of this car.

Understandably he was now at a complete loss for words.  What he was seeing had never happened before in his 18 years as a Deputy Sheriff.  He finally stated in a meek voice and addressed the tall person standing by the car that was no longer on fire; “Is everything all right?”

The answer from this person was short but may have been all that needed to be said; “It is, now.”  Jay looked at the face of the tall man but afterwards could not describe him.  The calm statement affirmed that there no longer was any reason for them to remain there.

As he walked with his son back to their car, watching the hazard flashers of his boat go on and off.  He got into the car feeling strange.  He had to ask his passengers a question; “Did you see that car on fire?”  Everyone said one word in unison; “Yes!”

He then made his way home safely with his precious cargo of his wife and all those children.  Since it is part of human nature to be incredulous it took a few days to figure out who that person was on the freeway and what was happening.  Jay finally decided that yes, something terrible was probably going to happen as he crossed the main intersection after leaving the freeway.  That person with a burning car was given knowledge of the future and was sent to stop a tired deputy sheriff and passengers that were heading home.  No other way to describe this; it was an Angel attending a vehicle on fire that would not consume it, very much like The Burning Bush of Moses.

And a car full of witnesses never forgot the sight of this burning car.


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