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Ohio State employee car sparks to ‘inferno’ in garage

Ally Marotti / Copy chief

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When Susan Blakely left for work Tuesday morning, she had no idea she wouldn’t be driving the car she had owned for seven years home that evening.

Blakely, an Ohio State human resources generalist who works in Campbell Hall at 1787 Neil Ave., said she drove over some debris near Summit Street on her way to work, but is not sure if that’s what caused her car to suddenly burst into flames.

“Just as I was coming in the garage, I thought I got behind a stinky vehicle, then as I was coming around a ramp, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s my vehicle,” Blakely said.

Blakely made it to the third floor, got out of her tan Buick Park Avenue when she saw smoke coming out of the vents and called emergency services.

“I saw the underneath side on fire as I was getting out of the car,” Blakely said.

Chuck Scheerle, OSU’s Emergency Management and Fire Prevention inspector, said he was the first to arrive to the scene at the parking garage behind the RPAC at 1801 Neil Drive.

“I got here and smoke was rolling out of the third floor,” Scheerle said.

Lt. Doug Mack of the Columbus Division of Fire said they received the call at 9:29 a.m.

“What we had was an inferno,” Mack said. “Car’s burnt up, total loss.”

Just more than an hour later, the fire was extinguished, Engine 25 from the Fire Department was pulling away and Blakely was on the phone with her insurance agents and looking for the nearest junkyard.

“It’s totaled, absolutely totaled,” Blakely said. “It (was) a great car.”

Despite the loss of her car, Blakely said she was just glad the fire department responded so quickly.

“It could’ve been so much worse. I’m just so thankful. Praise God,” Blakely said after the fact. “The fire people were able to get here quickly, nobody else got hurt and nobody else’s property was damaged.”

Mack said with the help of standpipe hookups, which most OSU buildings have, they were able to extinguish the fire quickly. Standpipe hookups allowed the fire department to hook up a hose and transport the water quickly to the third floor.

But still, Blakely said she wondered why there were no sprinklers in the garage.

Bob Armstrong, director of OSU’s Emergency Management and Fire Prevention, said code doesn’t require sprinklers in outside buildings like garages. Putting them in is really expensive, and the standpipe systems are preferred.

“Sprinklers are designed to be for indoor buildings rather than outdoor buildings, because in outdoor buildings, it gets so cold, the hoses will freeze,” Armstrong said.

But the lack of sprinklers didn’t hold up the fire department, as Mack said the standpipe hookups were more than sufficient.

The rest of the work was up to the wrecker, he said.

The only other damage the fire department could find, Mack said, was a melted lens on a light that was burnt in the garage.

Armstrong said it would be days or even weeks before anyone knew what caused the Buick to burst into flames.

“Car fires are extremely difficult to determine the cause,” he said. “Ninety percent of the time it’s electrical.”

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