|Anne Whitten's car after the fire was extinguished. [Photos by David Whitten]|
“It was a full-on full flaming mess. It was ridiculous,” says Anne Whitten.
Whitten had been driving her 2001 Toyota Sienna on Lee Highway near Hilltop Road in Merrifield at about 5 p.m. when the power steering went out. She thought she could drive it carefully to the Exxon station, which was about three miles away, leave it overnight to be fixed, and walk to her home in the nearby Camelot neighborhood.
During that drive, she noticed smoke coming out of the car, then when she drove by Inova Fairfax Hospital on Gallows Road, it started smoking a lot. When she got to the Exxon station, she parked it at a distance from the gas pumps and went inside the office to drop off the key.
“I saw the first flame underneath the car when I came back out of the office. We called 911, and then the flames got large,” Whitten says.
Meanwhile she had called her husband, who parked his car next to the Sienna and they got everything out of it and moved the other car away before the Sienna burst into flames. Firefighters from the Merrifield and Falls Church stations arrived quickly and extinguished the fire.
“The car had been in perfectly good running condition,” Whitten says. “Within 15 minutes it was in full-on flames. It went from being a perfectly good car to being burned to a crisp.”
Whitten is rethinking her decision to not pull over immediately and call a tow truck when the car started smoking, although she says if she had stopped, the fire could have spread to another car. She’s also glad she didn’t drive home and park in the garage, which could have led to a house fire.
Whitten expressed disappointment in the comments to an earlier post on the incident in the Annandale blog, which suggested the vehicle was a “white van” owned by “illegal immigrants.”
“There’s no reason to be negative or judgmental. It was a just a bad experience,” says Whitten, a Girl Scout leader who was helping her daughter get ready for Falls Church High School’s Homecoming that day. “The whole process was horrifying. I’m very fortunate that nobody was hurt.”