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A dramatic fire sparked by a battery and charger destroyed a handicapped-accessible van owned by Ron Dilday of Williams at the Jackson County Sports Park Friday. - Ron Dilday

Fire destroys paraplegic's van

Billowing flames and smoke consumed a van in a dramatic blaze early Friday that was sparked by a battery and charger for radio-controlled airplanes at a field hobbyists use at the Jackson County Sports Park.

The fire, reported at about 9:30 a.m., also damaged a cover over some picnic tables in a seating area for spectators at Agate Skyways, a site on East Antelope Road near Agate Lake. Light winds and spring-green grass kept the flames from racing across the fields, Jackson County Fire District No. 3 Deputy Fire Marshal Don Hickman said.

Williams resident Ron Dilday said he had put a lithium polymer battery and charger on the passenger seat of his handicapped-accessible van. Then Dilday, who has been a paraplegic since 1972, rolled over to talk to other members of the Rogue Eagles Radio-Controlled Airplane Club.

"In just a few minutes someone yelled 'Ron there's fire coming out the window of your van.' " he said.

Dilday said the lightweight, rechargeable batteries favored by pilots of radio-controlled planes can be dangerous, and they can explode or catch fire if damaged and burn at temperatures higher than 2,000 degrees. He said he was cautious with the batteries and hadn't had problems with them in more than three years of flying model planes.

Dilday, 59, couldn't safely reach a fire extinguisher in the back of his van, but he pulled a tub carrying 10 additional lithium polymer batteries from the vehicle, hoping to slow the intensity and spread of the fire.

"Then all hell broke out," Dilday said. "It went so fast."

Three batteries on the seat exploded. The car battery exploded. Tires popped. The gas tank erupted, and flames shot 30 feet into the air, by Dilday's estimate. Burning debris rained down on the batteries Dilday had pulled from the carand stashed at what he thought was a safe distance away, igniting them, too, he said.

Firefighter crews with a fire engine and a water tanker quelled the fire within minutes of their arrival, but Dilday's van, valued at $46,000 was lost.

"It just knocked the wind out of me," Dilday said. "I'm still in shock."

No one was injured in the blaze.

Reach Anita Burke at 776-4485 or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

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