February 19, 2002

Car Catches Fire in WSH Lot; Minor Injury Ensues

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A car caught fire while parked behind Willard Straight Hall last Friday afternoon. After the car’s gas tank exploded, the fire spread to two adjacent cars.

Cindy Hosmer, a Cornell Dining employee who works in the Ivy Room, was sitting in her parked car when an exposed wire from the battery began to spark. Hosmer had purchased the used 1993 Mitsubishi Eclipse from Skott’s Automobile three days before the incident. The radio in the car had been previously removed, leaving a gap in the dashboard and the wires exposed. Shortly after the wires sparked, the interior of the car caught fire.

“I heard sparks coming from the dashboard, and there were flames everywhere,” she said. “The wire had gotten so hot the plastic was melting off.”

She reacted quickly once she realized what was happening.

“I got out and unhooked the wire from the battery … I grabbed what I could and ran into Willard Straight Hall,” she said.

The Cornell University Police arrived on the scene 10 minutes after the fire broke out, and the Ithaca Fire Department arrived soon after and extinguished the flames. Hosmer’s car was burnt, and the roof had completely melted.

Chris Hoff ’02 witnessed the scene from the window of Uris Library.

“Immediately I saw tons and tons of white smoke…. You could see the flames start,” he said. “[The car was] completely burnt to a crisp even before the fire trucks arrived.”

C.U. Police Sergeant Daniel Murphy said that he could not report the monetary damage done to any of the cars. One additional car, beyond the ones on fire, sustained damage.

The Ithaca Fire Department is currently investigating the incident, according to Murphy.

Hosmer has not decided whether she will press charges against the car dealer.

“I have to talk to a lawyer,” she said. “I’m going to wait to see what the insurance company will do.”

Hosmer expressed both regret and gratitude to the others involved in the incident. About 20 people had gathered at the scene.

“I feel really, really bad for the two cars that were next to me,” she said. “[I] thank everyone who helped me out that day.”

Despite the unfortunate nature of the incident, Hoff said the scene fascinated him.

“I was captivated at first,” he said. “It was a unique sight.”

Hosmer was treated at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services for minor burns on her hands from the melted plastic.

Nadeem Siddiqui, director of Cornell Dining, had no comment.

Archived article by Shannon Brescher