Car fire thwarts Elizabethton Star morning delivery

By Abby Morris

Star Staff
   Tuesday began like any other day for Samantha Pickering. She drove to the Elizabethton Star office, picked up the newspapers she delivers on her paper route, and started her usual morning routine.
   However, around 10 a.m., something happened to change all of that.
   Pickering was about to finish the Biltmore portion of her route before moving on toward Sullivan County to complete her day's work. She stopped at a home on Smith Road, placed the paper in the box, and drove toward her next destination.
   At that time, she said, the radio in her car suddenly died and the hood of her 1992 Ford Escort began to bow up in the middle.
   "It looked like it got a pump knot on the hood," Pickering said and laughed. "You've got to laugh when something like this happens, otherwise you'll just get nervous and upset."
   When she saw the hood bowing up, Pickering said she stopped the car in the middle of the road and watched flames come out from under the hood of the car.
   "By the time we got out, flames started shooting everywhere," said Janie Carr, Pickering's mother, adding that it was a very scary situation.
   Pickering agreed. "I got to thinking, what if that thing had blowed while I was driving instead of just catching fire," she said.
   Pickering said she and her mother walked to a nearby house to call for help. By the time emergency workers arrived, the vehicle was fully engulfed in flames.
   According to Watauga Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dale Smalling, the vehicle's gas tank had been ignited by flames, causing the fire not only to spread, but also to continue burning.
   Smalling stated that Pickering had told him the gas tank was approximately half full at the time the vehicle caught fire.
   Because of the nature of the fire, firefighters were able to keep it under control, but did not put it completely out. "The reason we're letting it burn is because it's burning the gas in the tank off and if we put the fire out and the gas leaks out and runs off and ignites, it will cause a problem," Smalling said.
   Smalling said the fire probably started as an electrical spark in the dashboard.
   After the fire was extinguished, Pickering examined what remained of her car. The newspapers inside, yet to be delivered, were burned, or as Pickering put it, "crispy".
   Kathy Scalf, circulation manager for the Elizabethton Star, was able to find replacements for the burned papers and helped Pickering finish up her daily route.