Vehicle fire delays traffic on Highway 41

Two Oakhurst residents were able to escape without injuries Monday afternoon after their sedan burst into flames over Deadwood along Highway 41.

Peter Cavanaugh, a longtime Sierra Star columnist, and his wife Eileen Cavanaugh were headed south towards Fresno in a black 2001 Buick Park Avenue sedan around 12:30 p.m. when smoke began billowing from the glove compartment.

Peter Cavanaugh said the car had been giving him mechanical issues for some time, but its latest trip to a mechanic originally seemed to clear up those problems.

“So we’re going to Fresno and right as we’re going up the mountain I start hearing clang, clang, clang, and all the gauges shot into the red,” Peter said. “I mean, the car stopped dead and it went up quick.”

“It was beyond scary,” added Eileen. “Suddenly we saw flames shooting out of the glove box and from the windows, we had to get out of that thing fast.”

Cal Fire engines quickly responded and doused the flames as the Cavanaughs watched from across the highway.

Peter later added they were en route to Fresno for him to undergo a stress test.

“But I’d say that’s already been taken care of,” Peter chuckled. “And I’m still here!”

One-lane traffic controls were instituted for about an hour north of Highway 41 and Road 425C as the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, and Cal Fire staff cleared the area and awaited a tow truck.

In a separate incident later that day, George Hathaway, 87, was sitting in the driver’s seat of a black 1990 V12 Jaguar XLS when it suddenly exploded underneath the passenger’s side, spreading fire up the plywood wall of the carport at his home on Chipo Poyah Road, called “Hathaway’s Hideaway.”

Hathaway’s hands were lightly singed, with no blisters and no major injuries. He refused medical care.

Cal Fire Engine 4254 from Bass Lake was first on scene after receiving calls of the fire at 3:15 p.m., and contained the blaze within 10 minutes. Incident commander Mike Hunziker said the car suffered less damage than expected, and it appeared to be a mechanical issue that caused its engine to erupt.