Dakota Montgomery was just trying to fix his car.
He was inside his 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix attempting to replace its fuel pump when the car burst into flames behind a row house in the 200 block of North High Street shortly before 1:30 p.m.
“It just caught, everything back there. Right in my face,” Montgomery said. “I was trying to get out. I just seen all orange. Fire. I was trying to get away.”
Rachel Hettenhausen saw it all.
Hettenhausen, who is Montgomery’s girlfriend and who lives in the row house, was in her parked SUV behind Montgomery’s car when it caught fire.
“He was still inside the vehicle for three to five seconds,” Hettenhausen said. “By the time I got out of my car he was just getting out and he pulled his shirt up over him. There was fire in there. I don’t see how he’s not burned up.”
Once Hettenhausen saw Montgomery had gotten safely out of his car, she got back into hers and moved it, afraid it would be the next to ignite.
The thick black smoke that billowed from the fire was likely visible for miles.
The car is a total loss, but quick work by Belleville firefighters prevented further damage. The car was parked closely enough to the building’s back porch that the porch briefly caught fire, but firefighters at the scene said they doused those flames before they did any serious damage.
A small fire that started when pine needles ignited in the lawn also was easily put out.
It’s not precisely clear what caused the fire. Montgomery was examined at the scene by an ambulance crew and refused medical treatment, but he said a few of his dreadlocks had been singed.