Detectives from the Gila County Sheriff's Office are trying to figure out how a man was burned to death when his 1999 Dodge truck caught on fire in Pine Monday evening.
A resident on Manzanita Trail called the fire department at 6:37 p.m. when she heard an explosion and saw smoke. Pine/Strawberry firefighters responded.
After putting out the truck fire, firefighters discovered the charred body of a man inside a culvert near the truck.
"When the fire department got here, there were flames on the other side of the culvert and the truck was totally engulfed --the flames went up 35 to 50 feet," GCSO Detective George Ratliff said.
Ratliff said he can only speculate about what happened; the extreme heat of the fire left little in the way of evidence.
"There is nothing left but a metal shell," Ratliff said. "Even parts of the engine had melted. The aluminum rims are totally melted off and we only found a small piece of tire left."
According to Ratliff, the driver appeared to make a wrong turn down the dead-end street. In an attempt to turn around, he inadvertently backed into the drainage ditch leading into the culvert.
"We found a boulder and the rear wheels were totally off the ground," Ratliff said.
Ratliff speculated what may have occurred after the driver got stuck.
"Maybe the tank ruptured. Maybe the filler neck came off-- we don't know," he said.
Ratliff said the man got out of his truck and most likely was behind it when it exploded.
"What ignited the fire we don't know, the engine may have been running, he may have had a cigarette, there may have been a spark," he said. "We think he exited the vehicle to see what the problem was and it ignited and when it went up in flames, he went inside the culvert."
The man's body was found eight feet inside the culvert. A stream of fuel ran from the truck down through the culvert.
The stream of fuel through the culvert may have ignited and burned the body, Ratliff said.
Although Ratliff suspects the body is that of a Strawberry man, a positive identification has not been made.
"We believe we know who he is, but the body is being transported to Tucson for an autopsy," Ratliff said. "If it's who we think it is, he had dentures and that won't do us any good in identification. He may be identified through DNA or spinal X-rays. Unfortunately, it's going to take awhile to make a positive identification."