A couple headed north of the Valley inadvertently sparked a brush fire off Interstate 17 when their car broke down near Cordes Junction on June 1, 2017. Trevor Fay/Special for The Republic

A couple driving on Interstate 17 near Cordes Junction accidentally sparked a brush fire when they were forced to pull over as the car malfunctioned Thursday afternoon.

Trevor Fay, 23, and his girlfriend felt a piece of their car fly off from its underside, which he suspects may have started a brush fire that burned more than 60 acres alongside Interstate 17 about 2 p.m., he told The Arizona Republic.

The fire forced a closure of the northbound lanes in an area south of Sunset Point while crews fought the fire, which was under control by about 4 p.m., according to the Daisy Mountain Fire Department.

The fire caused an 8-mile backup before the road reopened shortly after 4:30 p.m., the Arizona Department of Transportation said.

“The engine rattled and (shook), and when we stepped on the gas I heard something break off from under the car,” Fay said. “That’s when we lost power and had to pull over. We realized there were flames underneath the vehicle and figured one of the pieces from the vehicle went into the brush.”  

When Fay exited the car, he noticed the flame caught onto a bush immediately and he couldn’t put it out. The car also caught fire. Authorities at the scene were able to drive the couple to a McDonald’s, he said.

The fire was an example of how easily heat from a vehicle can spark a brush fire, according to state wildfire officials.

When driving a car, residual heat under the vehicle reaches 350 to 450 degrees and can start a fire on its own, said Dolores Garcia, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Public Affairs.

Garcia said the BLM has been conducting a public-service campaign on radio broadcasts in areas between Black Canyon City and Cordes Junction urging motorists to avoid pulling off on the side of the highway if at all possible to avoid starting a brush fire.

Fay, a former breaking-news reporting intern for The Republic, said he and his girlfriend were not injured.


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