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Fire destroys private ambulance, closes Hwy. 97 south of Bend for a time; no injuries reported

(Update: Adding video; more details about fire, cause)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – A private medical ambulance caught fire and was destroyed along U.S. Highway 97 five miles south of Bend late Friday afternoon, closing the highway in both directions for a time, but there were no injuries, officials said.

The fire was reported shortly after 4 p.m. near milepost 145 by the southbound lanes of the highway, about five miles south of Bend, near the High Desert Museum.

One northbound lane reopened by about 4:45 p.m. and one lane in both directions by around 5 p.m., ODOT Region 4 Public Information Officer Kacey Davey said. Full reopening was expected to be an hour or more later, after tow trucks removed the vehicle.

Bend Fire Battalion Chief Scott Wyman said they had received a call from Adventure Medics, a Bend business that offers event medical support, classes and inter-facility transfers, reporting that an ambulance had caught fire while doing a patient transfer.

Due to the volume of fire, they called in a second engine, he said, adding that no injuries were reported.

Deputy Fire Marshal Dan Derlacki said the driver reported a loss of power and pulled off the highway, when smoke began coming from below the ambulance. The driver and medic quickly evacuated the patient.

Adventure Medics CEO Matt Sabelman said, "During a routine transport between here and Klamath Falls with a BLS (basic life support) patient that was non-emergency, the driver heard a pretty loud bang in the back."

He said the driver then "pulled over, had a loss of power, saw some smoke emanating from the bottom of the ambulance, then had some flames, They removed the patient safely, got to a safe distance. They called Bend Fire, who responded very quickly."

Firefighters put out the blaze, helped by leaking oxygen tanks inside, and removed any salvageable equipment from the back of the ambulance, Derlacki said. A Bend Fire ambulance helped the crew with the patient until another Adventure Medics crew arrived to continue the patient's trip.

Derlacki said the cause of the fire was found to be a mechanical failure of the transmission, which broke and hit the fuel lines. The 2011 Dodge ambulance was in good working order, he said, with no recent mechanical issues noted. Losses are estimated at $50,000.

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

Tyson Beauchemin

Tyson Beauchemin is a photojournalist for NewsChannel 21


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