BUTTE COUNTY (CBS13) – Three children are recovering at the UC Davis burn center after a fire erupted inside the SUV they were riding in.

Cal Fire officials call the incident nothing short of a freak accident. Apparently, a car battery and a propane tank in the trunk of the car sparked the fire.

The incident happened just before 5 p.m. on Larkin Road near the city of Biggs near Oroville.

Cal Fire says a family of six – two adults, one teen and three children – were in an SUV heading north when a propane tank in the back of the car bumped up against a 12 volt car battery also being stored in the back of the car.

“The propane cylinder jostled around and got on top of the battery, grounding both positive and negative terminals, and causing an arc and essentially jetting all the fuel of the propane tank out into the compartment of the vehicle,” said Battalion Chief John Sprague.

The resulting fireball spread through the vehicle, hurting the three youngest kids in the back seat the worst. The three – ages 2, 6 and 7 – were life flighted to the UC Davis Medical Center with critical flash burn injuries.

The mother of the three kids, the other adult and the teenager were not seriously hurt.

Sprague noted that the danger of transporting a 12 volt car batter should not be underestimated.

“People don’t give them the proper respect,” Sprague said. “They don’t generate enough voltage to shock you so people think they’re relatively safe but they carry a tremendous amount of amperage. When something metallic shorts the two terminals, it can jump up approximately 700 amps of power in an instant.”

Despite the fire, officers at the scene said that the SUV was able to be driven away.

As of Sunday night, there has been no update on the children’s conditions.


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