Waterville PD and Colby Security tackle car fire

Students rushed to the lawn behind Miller library on Sunday afternoon after hearing an explosion from East Quad.

“I was reading by the window in the library and heard a loud bang, then noticed some people outside looking toward East,” Cam Copeland ’16 said. “I turned to look out the window to my left and saw the hood of the car on fire. It grew rather quickly before the fire department finally showed up five or ten minutes later.” Copeland and other students filmed and photographed the aftermath of the event, showing the fire as it engulfed the front of the vehicle and released a billowing cloud of black smoke.

“By then, everyone in [the library] was at the windows and there was quite a crowd outside on the lawn between Miller and East,” Copeland recounted. The event sparked a great deal of curiosity and excitement from the student community, with photos and video footage of the fire appearing across social media.

Jim and Michele Bowe, parents of Maria (’15) and Camille (’18), rented the 2014 Hyundai sedan from the Portland Jetport. No one was in the vehicle when the fire started, but the smell was pungent enough to reach East’s top floor. “My mom and I were unloading the car and bringing some things up to dorm,” Camille said, recounting the incident. “The smell was really acidic, but we wrote it off, thinking some kid was having a fire in the fireplace.”

The younger Bowe sister recalled that her parents left soon after dropping off some recent purchases, but she received a call almost immediately after they left the building. “My mom was on the other line,” Bowe said, “and she told me, ‘the car is on fire and it’s probably going to explode. You should get your roommate and leave now.’” Both campus security and Waterville officials concluded that the fire started due to a malfunction under the hood, and the explosion resulted from the heating and eventual collapse of the car’s windshield.

However, there is some ambiguity surrounding the specific details—particularly because the engine had not been running prior to the event. “We still have no idea exactly what happened,” Bowe said. “When the fire department was done putting out the car, they opened the hood to try to figure out what was wrong. Unfortunately, everything was too charred to tell.”

Bowe, whose father is an attorney, said that her family is pursuing the incident in order to help prevent similar issues for other customers down the line. “We’re still unsure if and how we plan to take any legal action,” Bowe said. “We’ve let Hertz know. It’s a new model and we need to let people know in case it’s some kind of recall issue. Because it’s such a safety hazard, we’re worried about the risk others might assume while driving.”

The College’s Director of Security Peter S. Chenevert said that car fires are, in general, a rare occurrence but noted the importance of having contingency plans when such incidents arise.

“Usually we call the fire department as the officer is being dispatched. Each force has a particular role, which is always important with these kinds of things,” he said. “It’s always better to work with the professionals, and it’s our role try to secure the scene any way we can. It’s trying to keep people back so if there is an explosion it will minimize injuries. Once gas starts burning, it will just burn up everything.”

With this in mind, Chenevert said that any emergency comes with its own individual set of particulars that make security training so crucial to ensuring public safety at the College. “We have yearly interdepartmental training.

We have protocols that dispatchers have and guidelines to follow,” Chenevert said. “But you can’t plan how anything goes. It’s important to be as prepared as possible, and when necessary, let the pros handle it. If we hadn’t gotten the fire department in, [the fire] could have hit the fuel line.”

Upon the arrival of Waterville Fire-Rescue, workers were able to douse the flames almost immediately. No one sustained any injuries and the Bowes applauded the work of the firemen and Colby Security.

“They ran towards a car that was on fire and put themselves between the dorm and the car to protect the students,” said Ms. Bowe. Camille noted that this consideration did not end when the cleanup crew arrived. She received a number of emails from President Greene, other campus administrators and the security member on-call checking in with the family.

Still, this Homecoming Weekend proved eventful for those involved. “There was a lot of excitement,” Camille said. “This is some family time I don’t think I’m going to forget any time soon.”

Leave a Reply