A recent UCSB graduate’s return trip to the Sacramento area was cut short Thursday evening after his van packed with his and his girlfriend’s personal possessions caught fire on northbound Highway 101 at the Stowell Road exit in Santa Maria.
No injuries were reported.
The Santa Maria Fire Department responded to the scene about 6:15 p.m., according to Battalion Chief Alan Widling. Crews found a 1965 Volkswagen bus with the engine compartment engulfed in flames that were spreading to the interior of the vehicle, and grass and trees on fire in an adjacent field.
According to Widling, the driver told officials that he pulled to the side of the freeway after his van experienced mechanical difficulties and saw smoke and flames coming from the engine compartment area.
Crews brought the fire under control within 10 minutes, but because the fire had become deep-seated in the excessive contents, they spent the next 40 minutes removing the contents by hand and extinguishing them piece by piece and setting them scattered at the side of the freeway to prevent them from reigniting, according to Widling.
He said a towing company used a flatbed truck to remove the wreckage and was able to provide a pickup truck to assist with removing the damaged belongings from the side of the road.
One engine from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department provided personnel, water and assistance with controlling this incident. The California Highway Patrol assisted with traffic control during the incident.
Widling said preliminary damage estimates were set at $6,000 for the van and $1,000 for the contents.