CHP: 'Freak accident' caused burns on children in SUV fire

Propane tank bumps battery

BIGGS, Calif. - A freak accident is how Butte County Battalion Chief John Sprague described how an SUV got set on fire Sunday night near Biggs.  Three children -- ages 2,6 and 7 -- were in the backseat of an SUV on Larkin and East Rio Bonito Roads when a fire erupted from the back of the vehicle.

Sprague said the chaotic scene was caused by a small propane cylinder that hit a loose 12-volt car battery in the SUV's back compartment creating a fireball which burned the three children.  All were air-lifted to UC Davis.  Two were critical and the other major. 

At the time, Sprague was hopeful.  "Our concern was their airways," he said. "Their airways seemed to be clean and clear and were able to breathe and communicate with us."

"People need to understand that 12-volt batteries may not shock you, but they carry a tremendous amount of potential energy," warned Sprague. "And when that cylinder contacted those terminals it delivered about 700 amps."

Another child and two adults, including the mother, were not seriously hurt in the accident.


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