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Man avoids injury as his van sets on fire on Interstate 81 near Alexandria Bay

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An Alexandria Bay man avoided injury on Sunday night as he was able to clear his van before it became completely engulfed in flames on the side of Interstate 81.

Wayne E. Matthews had just dropped his two boys off with their mother at a diner at the nearby LaFargeville exit and was heading north toward the village around 5:45 p.m. when his 2000 Chevy Astro van started shaking. Mr. Matthews immediately pulled over to the shoulder of the highway, between exits 49 and 50.

“Immediately there was smoke,” he said.

Mr. Matthews, the only person in the vehicle, was quickly able to get out.

David E. VanBrocklin, chief of the Alexandria Bay Fire Department, said the vehicle’s drive shaft fell from the vehicle, setting off the van’s gas tank.

Even though his department was less than 10 miles from the scene, the vehicle was burning heavily by the time they and other first responders arrived.

“It didn’t take long for the vehicle to burn up,” Mr. VanBrocklin said.

The van sustained extensive damage in the fire, from its completely gutted interior to the burnt paint on its exterior.

Mr. Matthews said he had not had any major mechanical problems with the van prior to Sunday’s fire. He said the only major property loss in the car was tools he used for his construction work.

Standing next to the vehicle with his friend James P. Chiras, Mr. Matthews said he was still trying to understand what just happened.

“I don’t know if I’ve fully gotten a grasp of it all,” he said.

Traffic on the highway was slowed temporarily as crews cleared the scene. Assisting at the scene was the Fishers Landing fire department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and state police.

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