Update: Former Varna fire chief tows burning convertible out of Freeville garage with truck

Updated 12:27 p.m. Tuesday – 

FREEVILLE, N.Y. — A former Varna fire chief towed his burning convertible out of his Freeville garage Monday afternoon, likely preventing his garage from burning down, an official said.

Les Brown, who was the fire chief at Varna about 25 years ago, said he was revving up his ivory-colored 1953 Ford Sunliner convertible for the first joy ride of the year.

“I just bought it for some fun. It’s a go out on a sunny day car,” he said about the vehicle he’s owned for the past three years — it only had 23,000 miles on it.

Brown said he started the engine around 1:45 p.m. and realized he didn’t have his wallet, so he went back into his home to get it. When he came back out to the garage, he said he saw flames coming out of the engine near the windshield.

“I hit it with a fire extinguished (but) it didn’t go out,” he said, adding that he also called 911.

Coming to the realization that he likely wouldn’t be able to put the fire out himself and knowing that it would be a few minutes before firefighters got to his home, Brown grabbed a chain, attached the vehicle to his red Ford F-150 and pulled it out of the garage.

When firefighters got to the scene, the whole vehicle was in flames.

Freeville Deputy Fire Chief Howard Clafin said Brown’s quick thinking saved the garage, which is attached to the home but has a built in fire stopper.

“That garage would be pretty much totaled right now,” he said.

He said it seems likely that the fire was started by a fuel line leak.

Clafin said motorists pulling vehicles out for the nice weather should be sure to check their engine and ensure the fuel system connections are properly attached to prevent similar blazes. But even that might not stop a fire from starting in a malfunctioning vehicle.

“Sometimes no matter what you do, it’s going to happen,” he said.

Brown was not injured during the incident and said, unfortunately, that its’ possible he only had liability insurance on the vehicle.

Earlier –

ITHACA, N.Y. — Multiple fire departments are responding to a fire on the corner of West Dryden Road and Mill Street in Freeville.

The fire was called in 1:47 p.m.


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Freeville Fire department is responding as the primary, with Etna, Dryden and Cayuga Heights Fire Departments providing mutual aid. Dryden Ambulance is also on scene.

According to the dispatcher, there have been conflicting reports about the severity of the fire. It was first believed to be a vehicle fire inside a garage.

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