RUMFORD — A local man got a scare late Wednesday morning when the snowmobile he was on caught fire near three large propane tanks at a Route 2 business.

Arthur Tate, 20, of Isthmus Road and his friend, Dakota Bentley, 20, of Mexico were not injured in the incident that happened shortly before noon at Judy’s Variety, a convenience store and fuel station.

Using a fire extinguisher, store employee Kris York of Rumford helped put out the fire that Tate and Bentley were trying to extinguish by throwing snow at the flames, Bentley said.

Rumford firefighters arrived and ensured the fire was out by using another extinguisher. They also checked the sled with a thermal-imaging camera.

It was not immediately known how badly the 2007 Arctic Cat F6 sled was damaged. It is valued at $6,000 and owned by Tate’s father, Joseph Tate Sr., Rumford fire Chief Bob Chase said.

“It ain’t the prettiest picture, but, you know what? At least everyone’s OK,” Bentley said.

Tate was out riding trails with Bentley when they stopped at the store for gas. After refueling, Arthur Tate said he pull-started the snowmobile. He drove it away from the pumps to a nearby bank of plowed snow beside the store’s propane tanks.

Tate shut the engine off, returned to the store to buy a drink, came outside, placed the drink in a storage compartment in the sled, and re-started the engine.

“As soon as he did the pull-start, it just went,” Bentley said of the fire that erupted near the foot panel. “I noticed it and I yelled, ‘Hey! You’re on fire!'”

Tate and Bentley threw snow at the flames as fast as possible to try to extinguish it, Bentley said.

But he credited York with extinguishing the fire.

York said he was alerted to the fire by his boss and saw the two men throwing snow at it.

“I noticed that it wasn’t going out with the snow, so she said, ‘Grab the extinguisher!'” York said. “So I come out with the extinguisher and doused the flames out.

“It was getting awful close to the propane tanks, so I got out here as quick as I could. The flames were about 2 feet above the snowmobile and it would have got worse being that close to three of our propane tanks, plus a fuel tank. That would have been too much explosions for one day.”

York told Bentley that he and the store owner “were just glad you guys weren’t at the (gas) pump.”

“That’s what’s messed up,” Bentley said. Tate’s snowmobile “wasn’t smoking or anything right there. It was fine.”

“That was weird,” York said. “Next thing you know, poof!”

York said he believed it was an electrical problem that ignited the engine.

“It would have to be if there was no gas leaking from it, you know,” he said. “I feel bad for your buddy.”

“He’s devastated,” Bentley said.

Firefighters lifted the snowmobile onto its side and placed absorbent materials over gas that leaked out after the fire.

“It was some kind of equipment malfunction, I would say,” Chief Chase said. “Like anything mechanical, things can happen.”

[email protected]

filed under: