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Two men escape car fire
Say they were smoking when car burst into flames
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Firefighters put out the last burning remnants beneath a 1996 Chevy Lumina that exploded in flames while two men were smoking. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Two Manteca men in their early 20s survived a flash fire in their 1996 Chevy Lumina Monday afternoon as it was parked in a rural dirt driveway on Peach Avenue west of Union Road shortly before 2 p.m.

The 21-year-old front seat passenger was reportedly unable to free himself from his seat belt as the fire flashed through the passenger compartment and ultimately destroyed the vehicle. The driver told CHP that he got out of the car and ran around to the right, front door of his car and freed his friend by dragging him out of the car.

He was transported by helicopter to the University of California of Davis Burn Unit in Sacramento reportedly with second and third degree burns on some 20 percent of his hands and face.

They noted that they had just been sitting in the car smoking, adding that when they went to light a cigarette there was a flash of fire from something between the two front seats in the center console. Firefighters, who were first on the scene, said the car was fully engulfed with smoke and flames saying there was little they could do to save the vehicle.

The fire department was attempting to dispatch an air ambulance to their location and found the first two helicopters they requested were in service – one in the Bay Area and the other in the Columbia region of the foothills. Mercy Air Ambulance was located at a Modesto hospital, arriving within 15 minutes at the fire scene where they landed in an open field on Peach Avenue. The victim was moved by medics from a Manteca Ambulance on a gurney to the loading side of the helicopter.

Peach Avenue was blocked off by emergency vehicles to prevent traffic from hampering the helicopter landing north of the roadway.

The Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department and the Manteca Fire Department were both dispatched to the scene. Fire investigators began their probe of the charred interior of the car following the fire looking for clues to the cause of the inferno.