Raleigh gridlock symbolized by flaming car

akenney@newsobserver.comFebruary 13, 2014 

— The Internet seemed to choose one image in particular to represent Raleigh’s day of gridlock: a flaming car sitting halfway up a snow-white hill lined with abandoned vehicles.

Different versions of the picture quickly spread across social media as people shared the images, sending one of the photos to the top of Reddit, a popular news and commentary site.

Witnesses said the white sedan caught fire as it tried to navigate a hill on Glenwood Avenue near Interstate 540 in northwest Raleigh. Dan Barratt and his girlfriend, Ellen Thomas, had been stopped near the slope for 2 1/2 hours, watching people try to push cars up the hill, one by one.

“I could see this car trying to go up the hill, and it was struggling, and then it kind of pulled off to the side,” said Barratt, who was driving home with Thomas to Cary. Soon, the first signs of fire were visible.

“The smoke wasn’t white,” Barratt said. “It was black.”

The fire started in the engine compartment, said Assistant Chief Kendall Hocutt of the Raleigh Fire Department. Within minutes, the flames were bright enough to be seen from hundreds of feet away. The driver got out safely, but the car seemed to be a total loss.

“You could see the whole front half of the car was charred black,” Thomas said.

By the time a firetruck arrived, the car was so badly burned that it was impossible to pinpoint the actual cause of the fire, Hocutt said.

A few people grabbed pictures of the fire, and they spread quickly online throughout the day. The post on Reddit, with the caption, “So, this is how Raleigh, NC handles 2.5 (inches)” of snow earned more than 4,000 “upvotes,” beating out practically all of Wednesday’s thousands of submissions to the site and drawing more than 7,000 comments.

Lindsay Webb, who wasn’t immediately available for an interview, also took a photo of the flaming car. Barratt and Thomas said their goal in sharing the photo was to remind people of the hazards gripping the area.

“When there’s weather you’re not used to seeing, situations you’re not used to, you really have to be careful and take that extra precaution,” Barratt said.

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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