Fire at gas station destroys van, pumps

Monday, April 8, 2002

Cape Girardeau Fire Department battalion chief Tom Hinkebein said it's amazing no one was injured in a gasoline fire Sunday afternoon at Huck's Convenience Store at 353 S. Kingshighway.

The fire gutted a Dodge Caravan, badly burned a Mercury Sable, melted gasoline pumps and charred the store's canopy. No damage was done to the convenience store building.

Fire chief Mike Lackman said it could have started one of two ways.

"The van could have been running or gas could have spilled out and hit the exhaust," Lackman said. "The guys made a good stop. They did a nice job. The potential was there if someone was in the vehicle there was a good possibility they would have been seriously injured, if not killed."

Some onlookers said the fire, which firefighters are still trying to determine the cause of, looked like a scene from a movie.

Lisa Scherer of Oran, Mo., who owns the minivan, said it was more like a nightmare.

She and three of her five children stopped at the station to get gas and sodas on their way into Cape Girardeau on a shopping trip.

Scherer said that when they pulled into the station, she turned off the vehicle and told her daughters to go inside and get their sodas.

'I thought I was on fire'

When she finished pumping the gas, Scherer said, she pulled the gas nozzle out of the van and saw a ball of fire shooting from the end of it.

"I just knew the van was gonna blow, so I dropped the nozzle and ran," Scherer said.

As she started running toward the convenience store building she could feel the heat on her back and smell her hair burning.

"I thought I was on fire," she said. "When I got to the building I realized I wasn't, it was just the wind blowing the heat and flames."

Scherer was the only person outside when the fire ignited and made it into the building with only some hair singed.

Seeing Scherer safely inside the building was a relief for her 11-year-old daughter, Kelsie Glastetter.

"People were screaming 'Fire, fire,' and I didn't know where she was," Kelsie said. "I thought she was gonna get hurt real bad."

Scherer said she was thankful for two reasons -- because her daughters were inside at the time of the explosion and because she didn't bring her two babies on the trip.

"They would have been trapped inside their car seats," she said. "And I would have been trying to get them out."

Hinkebein said the fire spread so quickly that Scherer would have never gotten the babies out of the car.

"It was a very impressive fire," he said. "It probably only took five or six minutes to burn the entire vehicle. It doesn't take long when you've got gas involved."

Hinkebein said firefighters were on scene within about three minutes of the call and quickly had the blaze under control.

He said the auto shut-off feature on the gas pumps helped the firefighters. Whenever the hoses are damaged, the pumps shut down. A strong southwestern wind kept the flames blowing away from the building.

Lackman said there was no chance of the tanks exploding because they are underground.

The only items recovered from the minivan were a few dollars and some lip gloss that escaped destruction inside a melted purse.

Ran out the back

Most of the damage was done to Scherer's minivan and the pump station she was using, but a nearby car was also destroyed.

Debra Clark, of Tamms, Ill., was inside the station paying for the gas she had just pumped into her 1997 Mercury Sable when Scherer's minivan burst into flames.

"I just saw a big fire cloud, and I ran through the back door," Clark said. "I thought the building was gonna go. Thank God it didn't."

Janet Cox, manager at the Huck's store, said she hopes to know the damage estimates and when the store will re-open by this afternoon.

"My boss will be here in the morning to look around," she said. "They're wanting me to open just the store part, but our gas pumps are going to be down for a while."

hkronmueller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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