A pack rat that made its home under the hood of a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee emerged startled but alive Wednesday after its nest ignited, causing a fire that engulfed the vehicle.
The incident occurred at 8:18 a.m. near the U.S. Highway 160 Interchange, better known as the Bridge to Nowhere in Durango.
Eric Fisher was driving westbound from Bayfield to Durango when the vehicle started smoking and caught fire, said Karola Hanks, fire marshal with the Durango Fire Protection District.
He stopped the fiery Jeep in the middle of the road, and authorities closed both directions of travel for about 40 minutes while they extinguished the blaze and removed the vehicle, Hanks said.
Drivers were rerouted on the Bridge to Nowhere, she said.
“Many of them used it for the first time,” Hanks said.
Firefighters doused the Jeep with foam, and a short time later, the pack rat crawled out from behind a firewall in the engine compartment.
Other than a few singe marks and being soaked in fire-retardant foam, the varmint appeared unscathed, Hanks said. It gave firefighters a look, and posed long enough for a photograph before scurrying off into a field.
“We only found one,” Hanks said. “He crawled up that firewall out of the engine and sat there and looked at us, all covered in foam from fire suppression. He was a little singed – not much, I mean he had all of his hair still – and was quite unhappy.”
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Aaron Robertus said another driver flagged down Fisher to let him know his vehicle was smoking. The fire destroyed the white Jeep. No citations were issued.
“There’s a little bit of paint left on it, but it was pretty much completely gone,” Robertus said.
It is not uncommon for rodents to build nests in cars, especially in the engine compartment, which is often warm and protected from the elements, Hanks said.
She recommends drivers use moth balls or strategically placed mouse traps to deter such activity. And if people live in areas where rodents are prevalent, it never hurts to check under the hood once in a while, Hanks said.
Rats, mice and squirrels can chew through wires or build nests that are flammable.
Mice have been known to pack into air filters so tightly that it cuts off air flow to the car, she said.
The Jeep that caught fire Wednesday had been serviced two days prior, which means the pack rat hadn’t been living there long. The fire spread to the fuel pump and fuel tank, she said.
The driver’s cellphone burned in the car, and efforts to reach him Wednesday were unsuccessful.