Residents who live near the Wal-Mart Supercenter reported explosions Sunday evening that sounded like sonic booms.
But the blasts heard at about 6 p.m. actually emanated from at least three tires and one aerosol can that were being consumed by fire along with a 1985 Ford pickup truck in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
By the time the first of three dispatched Payson Fire Department engines arrived at the scene at 5:52 p.m., Fire Marshal Jack Babb said, "It was a real barn burner or actually a truck burner, if you will. It was approximately 75 to 80 percent (engulfed in flames)."
The heat was so intense, Babb said, that it melted the plastic lenses on the tail lights and backup lights of one vehicle parked 10 to 15 feet away, and "rippled" the tail lights of another that was parked 20 to 30 feet away.
Although the handicapped-plated truck was parked in a handicapped space 40 to 50 feet away from the store, there was no concern that the fire would spread to the Wal-Mart structure, Babb said, and only the portion of the parking lot surrounding the burning truck was closed down. The store was not evacuated, no one was hurt and no citations were issued.
Citing "unconfirmed reports," Babb said that the owner of the truck, Robert L. Ripley of Payson, and his wife were pulling into the parking lot when the truck died. They got it restarted, "and around that time, someone told them their truck was on fire. They parked it, got out, and went into the store. But we still need to follow up on that information."
While an official investigation was not conducted, Babb said that, "to the best of our knowledge, the fire probably originated underneath the pickup and moved from back to front. As soon as the engines arrived, we got water on it immediately and the fire was technically under control at that point."
According to Payson Police Officer Steve Caros, who investigated the scene, "almost all" vehicle fires are caused by faulty electrical or fuel systems.
"One of the (truck) explosions sent the fuel filter skittering across the parking lot," Caros said. "Now, I'm not a fire investigator, but that tells me that the fuel line had enough pressure around it to pop which kinda tells you the problem was not in the fuel line."
Exploding tires common
Exploding tires are common in automobile fires, Babb said.
"Tires are under pressure, anyway. Every time you apply fire to a pressurized vessel, you're going to increase that pressure and eventually it will weaken to a point where it has to relieve that pressure," he said.