Last night, at approximately 10:20 p.m., Ukiah Valley Fire Authority responded to the 400 block of Talmage Road after multiple parties reported a fire in the area.
Once on scene, UVFA Captain John Corippo found a van fully engulfed, an SUV close by was on its way there, and another van with a wheelchair lift was threatened by the heat and flames. By the time the fires were extinguished, two of the vehicles were destroyed and one was damaged.
UVFA Battalion Chief Justin Buckingham had to limit his comments about the fire because it is still under investigation, but confirmed it was “human-caused.” Battalion Chief Buckingham, with the assistance of the Ukiah Police Department, is still actively investigating today.
Firefighters at the scene would request an investigator to the scene for suspected arson, heard on the police scanner last night around 11:00.
Captain Corippo told us the incident occurred in the parking lot of 415 Talmage Road. All three of the vehicles appeared to be associated with the Disability Service and Legal Center, a social services organization that works to assist area people with disabilities with benefits, housing, and legal issues. Captain Corippo was told the van with the wheelchair lift that was cosmetically damaged was recently acquired by the organization.
As to how the fire consumed three separate vehicles, Captain Corippo said the three vehicles were parked in a row, within three feet of each other. The high temperatures and combustible fluids typical of vehicle fire could have accelerated the fire’s spread between the vehicles.
The fire behavior was notable due to magnesium present in the body of the vehicles, Captain Corripo told us. When magnesium interacts with water, hydrogen gas is formed which ignites violently.
Last night was actually the first incident for a newly-minted UVFA firefighter, fresh out of the academy. The vehicle fire provided the young buck a crash course in magnesium-influenced fire behavior. As he doused the vehicle with water, the flames intensified and turned a bright white.
If anyone witnessed the fire or has information about the circumstances surrounding it, reach out to the Ukiah Police Department at (707) 463-6262.