Vehicle fire ignites Flyers station

4 engines respond to Newcastle blaze
By: Bruce Warren Journal Staff Writer
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NEWCASTLE - Quick action by Sunny Kahan and speedy response time by the Newcastle and Penryn fire departments saved the day at the Flyers gas station Thursday morning. Kahan, store manager of the Flyers station, pushed the emergency shut-off switch, as soon as he saw flames from the pump area of the station, located at the Newcastle exit of Interstate 80. Gene Classon of Auburn was refueling his Ford pickup truck when he heard a noise from the back of the camper shell attached to his truck. “I heard a little boom and I opened the back,” Classon said. It was then that flames dancing 12 feet high poured out the back of the truck. “They brought a fire extinguisher and it didn’t work,” he said. Before that, Classon, Kahan and an unidentified woman tried to put the fire out with water from buckets at the station island. “I haven’t a clue what happened,” Classon said. “I was fueling when it happened. I must have had maybe five or six gallons in it when it happened. Fire started in back of the camper near the area of the propane heater.” Laura Brahce, a biology teacher at Sierra College, was fueling her Subaru at an adjacent pump island, as she was on the way home after finishing her morning jog. “I was filling my tank at the same time he was and there was an explosion inside his camper,” Brahce said. “The owner went out and opened the back. There was another woman trying to help him out.” By that time, fuel was spilling out everywhere. “There was diesel pouring out all over because he left the pump running,” Brahce said. “I was in my car when fire spread from his camper to the ground, so I just got out and ran.” Paul Dahms, who works in an office next to the Flyers station, heard an explosion and went out with his administrative assistant Claudette Horvath to see what happened. “We just saw the truck burning and heard the explosion first,” Dahms said. “The flames were up over the canopy.” After someone at the Flyers station dialed 911, sometime after 9 a.m., fire truck No. B-41 of the Newcastle Fire Protection District arrived on the scene in minutes, followed by engine No. 38 of the Penryn Fire Protection District. Officer Dave Monteeho of the California Highway Patrol said he got the call around 9:30 and arrived about 9:35 a.m. to close the area to traffic. The fire potentially could have been much worse. When Chief Dave Ebert of the Penryn Fire Protection District got the call, it looked bad. “The initial report was pretty grave,” Chief Ebert said. “But everything went as it should. The automatic gas-station shutdown worked as it should. Four engines got here. I was real close to pulling a second alarm. All in all, I think we’re very, very lucky.” Flyers store manager Kahan was alert enough to hit the emergency switch that shuts off fuel and electricity to the pumps. “I went and hit the emergency switch inside, and then I hit the switch outside,” Kahan said. Thomas Dwelle, general partner of Nella Oil Company, which owns and operates many Flyers gas stations, was at the Newcastle station Thursday. He praised Kahan’s quick thinking and the response time of local fire districts. “The best thing to do is what Sunny did and that shuts down everything outside,” Dwelle said. “Sunny was the real hero here and the firemen.” Classon’s Ford F-250 pickup truck was totally gutted by the fire, as was most of the pumping island where he was parked. Intense heat from the flames caused the metal frame above the pumps to partially melt and become a twisted wreck. The cause of the fire is still being investigated, but fire officials know where it started. “We know the fire came out of the back of the camper and spread rapidly to the canopy over the gas pump,” Chief Ebert said. Classon suffered minor bruises and abrasions to the side of his face. He refused medical attention from local emergency medical technicians who responded, because he wanted to see his own doctor, he said. There were no other injuries. At the time of the fire, Classon was alone in his truck and was heading to Dillon’s Beach for an outing with family members. “I didn’t make it very far,” he said.