TOWER- A snowmobile caught on fire while fueling up at Vermilion Fuel and Food, in Tower, on Thursday morning. A plume of thick black smoke rose up over Main Street, and loud pops, crackles, and …
TOWER- A snowmobile caught on fire while fueling up at Vermilion Fuel and Food, in Tower, on Thursday morning. A plume of thick black smoke rose up over Main Street, and loud pops, crackles, and booms could be heard blocks away.
“I heard a small pop,” said cashier Colette Sistad, who was outside observing the flames from a safe distance. “I didn’t think anything of it. But then a guy came running in telling me to call 911.”
A snowmobile group from southeastern Minnesota had left Fortune Bay only a few minutes earlier and stopped in Tower to fill up their machines.
“I heard a poof and then I was on fire,” said a very lucky snowmobile rider named Larry who didn’t wish his last name to be used. Within seconds, the snowmobile and the gasoline dispensing pump were engulfed in flames.
Another snowmobiler in his party quickly ran to hit the emergency gas shutoff, and another ran inside to have the cashier call 911.
The dispenser that was on fire. The pump itself is in the underground tank, and once the emergency shut off is hit, the pump is shut off, no more gas flows into the dispenser. Also shear valves at the bottom of the pump help cut off the flow of gas in emergency situations. The gas station also cut off electricity to all of its pumps.
The flames shot around and above Larry, who quickly realized that his pants and jacket were on fire. Still wearing his helmet and gloves, he was luckily protected from the flames. He was able to pat the fire out with his gloves, as his friends were hollering at him to get away from the flames.
“I’m an avid rider,” said Larry, who said he used to put about 5,000 miles a year on his sled, though his riding time has been less since his wife died a few years ago. The two often vacationed in the area, both in the winter to ride the trails, and in the summer camping at Hoodoo Point Campground.
While his 2015 Arctic Cat Sno Pro 7000 was reduced to a steaming pile of metal, he otherwise escaped harm except for needing new gloves, jacket, and pants. His pants, he said, were a brand-new pair, and he joked that perhaps his Arctic Cat snowmobile was upset he was wearing pants from Polaris. The pants had melted patches on one leg. His jacket had the outer layer completely burned off on one side, but the fire had not gone through the insulation layer.
Terry Wagoner, owner of Fuel and Food, said they are not sure if it was the snowmobile or the dispenser that ignited, and wasn’t sure exactly what could have happened to start the fire, and not sure they will ever be able to know what the cause was. Wagoner said he hoped to get the okay to reopen his other pumps in the afternoon, after a safety inspection is done.
“It’s just fortunate that nobody was hurt,” said Wagoner.
Larry was thankful he wasn’t hurt and was ready to head back out on the trails this afternoon. His group had brought up an extra sled, and they now planned to head towards Crane Lake this afternoon.
Fire departments from Tower, Breitung, and Greenwood responded to the scene, along with Tower Ambulance and Breitung Police.
The Tower Department was first on scene and knocked down the flames. Breitung arrived moments later and applied foam to prevent any rekindle.