Van engulfed by smoke and flames on Kam V Highway today

| January 4, 2011 | 0 Comments

Larry Rawlins prepares to tow Kombi to its final resting place.
By David Lichtenstein

First, smoke starting pouring out the sides. Within seconds, a van traveling westbound out of Kaunakakai at 1 p.m. today burst into flames.

In this case I cannot remain an objective reporter. I am the owner of the burned, burnt-orange 1981 Volkswagen Vanagon that is no more.

On this news blog I normally don’t write about myself, but with fire trucks and police cars blocking traffic on Kamehameha V Highway, I became the news.

While driving to the West End on my way to Kaluakoi for a little surfing session with my son Seth, I heard a low thud.

“Dad! Look!” Seth exclaimed, just as we were passing the Monsanto cornfields below Manila Camp. Billows of black smoke were flowing out the bottom of the dashboard, which was particularly odd since the engine is in the rear. I shut down the vehicle, pulled over, and as soon as I jumped out I could see the flames consuming the engine compartment and licking the roof of the vehicle.

Within a minute, a man from Maui Electric Company (I will never complain about the cost of electricity again) had pulled over and taken out his fire extinguisher. Meanwhile, I was pulling my surfboard and other valuables out of the back. The MECO employee was unable to control the flames just as a second man showed up with a fire extinguisher.

Neither extinguisher did much to slow the spread of flames. Strangely, the engine turned itself on with the keys out of the ignition and was calmly idling while it burned.

Less than two minutes later the first fire truck showed up. The firemen jumped into action with a fire extinguisher and water hose and soon I was left with a smoky, wet vehicle.

I reported the incident to the policeman and a wrecker from Rawlins Chevron promptly arrived on the scene. With the smoke subsiding, fireman Greg Jennings and Larry Rawlins — who also works as a fireman when not operating his service station — discussed a possible cause for the fire. They found a disconnected fuel line streaming gas onto the wrecker truck. Somehow the gas had been heated by the exhaust manifold and sparked the fire.

This is a final obituary for our beloved Kombi. My wife and I have owned the vehicle for 16 years and put well over 100,000 miles on it during our various adventures. Kombi faithfully took us across the country and back one summer while we lived out of it. Kombi survived innumerable camping trips and work commutes. It now sits burned and dead on an empty lot.

When the Molokai landfill accepts large metal goods for recycling in March, Kombi will arrive at its final destination … R.I.P.

Category: News, opinion

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