The digital garage of my 1998 Jeep Wrangler.

The Christmas Jeep Fire of 1990

Death of a CJ7

One of my favorite, if not scary, Christmas stories took place on Christmas day, 1990, 3 days after our first child was born.

Allyson was born on December 22, and three days later the hospital politely rolls you to the curb as the insurance policy dictates, which for us that meant that we're brnging the new baby home on Christmas day. Being a good dad, I have the proper child seat in place as I pulled my '85 CJ-7 into the passenger loading area in front of the hospital. However, the nurses, and my wife, appeared to be a bit concerned about the getting into, and getting out of the Jeep. Yes, the CJ had a bit of a lift... I had managed to stuff 36" tires under the Jeep, so their concern was valid.

As we drove the 3 ½ miles home the Jeep started to smoke. Let me backtrack for a minute to explain. About a month or two previously I could smell something a little weird - an occasional burnt smell every time we drove it. something wasn’t right. I didn't want to pull the Jeep apart during the third trimester in case we needed to rush to the hospital, so I just put it off. I figured the Jeep is only 5 years old and well cared for - how bad could it be? (Bad, bad thinking...)

So, as we drove the short distance home the Jeep continued to smoke, and it got worse as we got closer. It got so bad in fact that we thought we might not make it. Stopping at the security gate to push buttons was agonizing, but finally I pull in to the closest parking space to our apartment as the smoke begins to roil out from both sides of the engine hood.

I jump out and run to the passenger side to help the wife and get the baby. The wife is panicked, yelling “get the baby out, get the baby out!” Jeanne had to jump down from the Jeep hoping not to rip the stitches from her C-Section, and I can't get to the baby until she is out of the Jeep and out of the way.

We managed to all get into the apartment and through our back sliding-glass door we could see the Jeep continue to pump smoke into the covered garage space. Ah, but the story isn't over yet. Yes, I parked in a covered garage. This is important and I'll come back to this point. I also parked in someone else's space - another factoid I'll come back to.

Not willing to just let my Jeep (my other first baby) burn to the ground I dashed back out to the Jeep. There were no visible flames, yet - just tons of smoke, so I opened the driver door and grabbed by trusty all purpose fire extinguisher. I'm sure I can save my Jeep.

I unlatched those stylish latches on each fender, pulled the nood release lever. Armed with the exinghuisher in my right hand, I lifted the hood with my left hand figuring to flop it against the windshield while I put out the fire. Now, remember that I said I parked in a covered parking lot. The cover was a bit low... too low for the engine hood to flip up and lean back on the windshield. So there I am with the engine hood up with the left hand and trying to pull the extinguisher pin with the other hand without dropping the hood. Comic? Sureal? Stupid? Yup, all of those thoughts hit me at once.

The tons of noxious black smoke my Jeep has pumped out during all of this time has not gone unnoticed, and I'm not just referring to my wife as she watches my antics through the rear door of our apartment. A couple of quick thinking do-gooders in the complext are on their way to save my Jeep. They grabbed the emergency fire hose in a nearby hallway and came running in TV fireman style - one man in front with the nozzle and one behind carrying part of the hose for support? Unfortunately the rescue scence quickly turned into a 3 Stooges moment as they hose reached the end it's line and the hero's lost their footing and came to rest on their bottoms. Humiliation and humor helped not at all, and my Jeep continued to burn.

Eventually, the fire melted the starter wires - the starter engaged and, well it was a manual transmission and I left it in gear so it started to move farward... It rolled right over the parking stop with easet (well, it was a Jeep on 36" tires) and it kept on rolling toward our backdoor, as if it was possessed in some Stephen King kind of way and hadn't given up on its quest to bring harm to my wife and/or daughter. It rolled right up to a lone palm tree that stood between my tormented Jeep and my family.

As a sense of relief swept over me when the tree stopped the Jeep's progress. But now flames have become visible and have started licking upward toward the palm tree leaves. Being a relatively new apartment complex, this palm tree was not so tall and seemed particularly vulnerable to a firey attack waged by a demonic Jeep. Once again, rescuers are on their way. The fire department has arrived on the scene!

Again, disaster takes another bite at the apple - the fire truck is also too tall for the covered parking lot andit parks about 50 yards away as the crew watches my Jeep burn. A couple of the more eager firemen decide to use their onboard supply of water. They pull their hose from the truck and drag it over to the Jeep just as the smoke all but comes to a stop. Having unrolled the hose, you can be sure those fireman were going to use it. The gave the Jeep a good soaking just to make sure the area was safe before they it rolled up and drove away.

I lost my Jeep that day, but I did gain a daughter. Well, I guess she really came a few days before, but it still makes for a good story. Oh, and I found out who's parking space I "borrowed" when I went back to work the following week. We had moved into the same apartment complex as a coworker, and I had parked in her space! She had seen the Jeep over the holiday and wondered what crazy person had parked their Jeep like that. So, when I was telling this Christmas story at work, she made the connection. Being newly Jeepless, I quickly became car pool buddies with that coworker.

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