Mayor’s vehicle goes up in flames

Published 8:46 am Thursday, August 26, 2010

Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm was slightly injured when his vehicle caught fire Wednesday morning while traveling on Highway 218 north of Blooming Prairie.

Stiehm was returning from the Owatonna area in his ’95 Nissan Pathfinder, with a trailer hooked to the back and three dogs on board, when he began to smell smoke.

“Finally I pulled my floor mat over and there was a hole in the floor,” Stiehm said.

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Stiehm described the hole to be the size of a baseball. With a large cup of coffee in hand, Stiehm poured the coffee over the fire, a move he initially thought fixed the problem.

“I poured it on there and it appeared to go out,” Stiehm said. “But when I got in the car, almost immediately I could smell the smoke and see the smoke coming up.”

Stiehm then decided to try to make it to Blooming Prairie, but wasn’t able to do so, as flames began shooting up from the floor board of the driver’s area.

“By the time I got on the north side of the town, there were flames coming around my leg,” Stiehm said. “I burned my leg a little bit.”

Stiehm then grabbed his belongings — including three dogs — and got out of the vehicle.

From the road, Stiehm watched his vehicle go up in flames.

“I had three quarters of a tank of gas and the whole thing just went up,” he said.

The fire blocked off traffic on Highway 218 for around 45 minutes, Stiehm said.

“It was kind of a spectacular fire,” Stiehm said of the scene.

Stiehm did suffer what he considers to be second degree burns on his leg, which have caused blisters. He’s not seeking medical attention for the burns.

The trailer attached to the truck was not subject to major damage.

The cause of the fire is unknown. Stiehm said the vehicle, which had 200,000 miles, had been in good condition before the fire occurred.