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A man was pulled from a burning vehicle on N.M. 4 near the White Rock split just before the Silver Ford Edge he was driving became engulfed in flames Tuesday afternoon.
How he was rescued was a story in itself.
According to the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department, the man was identified as B.R. Sanders, 84, of Los Alamos. Maj. Ken Johnson of the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department said Sanders apparently dozed off while driving and ran off the road. The weeds underneath the car caught on fire and as a result, the vehicle caught fire as well. Johnson added drugs and alcohol were not a factor in the cause of the crash.
Steve Yanicak and Don Carlson, who work for the Department of Energy NMED Oversight Bureau, were driving a government vehicle heading westbound on N.M. 4 after collecting storm water samples.
They noticed a white car about 70 yards off the road with orange flames coming out of it.
They pulled over and were instrumental along with three other people in pulling a man from the burning vehicle.
“We noticed there were people in the white car and one of them was trying to yank somebody out of the silver car,” Yanicak said. “Obviously, the car was on fire. We abruptly stopped. It happened so fast.”
Carlson was in the passenger seat of the government vehicle.
“I was first out and assisted the other gentleman who was first on the scene,” Carlson said. “He was not able to open the door at that point and so I assisted him in opening the door.
“I physically ripped the door open. The gentleman inside was an elderly man, probably in his 70s. He was a very big person. He had a portable oxygen tank. The car was on fire on the passenger side.
“I don’t know if he was aware of the flames or not. My instructions to him were to get out of the car and he just sat there and said he could not get out of the car and he could not move. I turned and hollered at Steve to get the fire extinguisher from our vehicle. We are required to have a fire extinguisher in our vehicle.
“I hollered to another woman in the white car to call 911 and she said she was on the phone with them.”
Yanicak returned with the fire extinguisher and they were able to beat back some of the flames.
By that time, a worker who is on the pavement project at N.M. 502 and a passing motorcyclist also stopped to assist.
“There was enough fire retardant in the canister to beat back the flames to give us time to get the man out,” Carlson said. “We went back to driver’s side and really just forced the man’s body out of the car. The car was catching on fire again.
“At that point, another gentleman who was part of the road project arrived on the scene and he assisted us in half carrying and half shuffling this man. He walked literally six inches at a time.”
In a few minutes, the car was fully engulfed in flames and Carlson said small explosions could be heard.
“We had five guys getting this guy out of harm’s way,” Carlson said. “We got him behind a corner of the hill and the lady and gentleman who were first on the scene got him inside their car so he could rest in the air conditioner. He was not hurt. He refused treatment. At that point, LAFD showed up and got hoses on the ground.”
The Los Alamos Fire and Police departments arrived and LAFD pulled their hoses across the highway and doused the burning car.
At the time, traffic was backed up eastbound on the Truck Route as well as westbound on N.M. 502.
N.M. 502 had been closed for most of the day because of paving and was reopened at 3:30 p.m. in time for the evening commute.
Los Alamos Police and Fire Department assisted with traffic control and the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office and County Fire Department are conducting the investigation. The Los Alamos National Laboratory Hazmat crew also was on the scene.
LAFD Incident Cmdr. Paul Grano said they removed approximately 10 oxygen tanks from the man’s 2011 Ford Edge. LAFD firefighters, as well as those from the Santa Fe Fire Department drained the oxygen tanks before removing them from the scene.
Yanicak and Carlson, meanwhile, went back to work.
“We had more samples to collect,” Yanicak said.
The two were asked if the man they helped rescue had anything to say.
“No, not really,” Carlson said. “He did not say much but he was very thankful.”