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Pile Of Leaves Catch Fire, Destroy SUV On Long Island

WANTAGH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- An SUV was burnt to a crisp after a pile of leaves underneath the vehicle caught fire Thursday.

Kailey Ellis said her uncle had his SUV parked in front of their home on Beech Street in Wantagh for about a week and she noticed leaves were piling up underneath it.

"Someone was like, 'You always gotta be careful about the leaves under the car, it could start a fire,'" she told 1010 WINS' Mona Rivera.

Despite the warning, Ellis couldn't believe her eyes when her uncle started up the vehicle around 5 p.m. The heat apparently ignited the leaves and the vehicle caught fire.

"We just saw flames starting to come up from underneath the car," she said.

Robin Ellis, Kailey's mother, was in the house when she heard her brother scream.

"He got out of the car, and then he came in, and he thought he could come and get water," Robin Ellis said.

But water couldn't put out the fire and the vehicle went up in a fireball.

"This was just a blaze, i mean the tires exploding. It was crazy," Robin Ellis said.

Then the gas tank ruptured, sending lit gasoline flowing down the street, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported.

Firefighters responded and quickly extinguished the blaze.

The Wantagh Fire Department said this was the second such leaf fire they've had in a week.

"Parts of the car -- the ignition system, the exhaust -- can typically get hot enough under normal operations to be hot enough to ignite dry leaves," explained Assistant Nassau County Fire Marshal John Priest.

Priest said it's a seasonal hazard. Leaves can ignite at 300 to 400 degrees. That's how hot a normal catalytic converter on the under side of a car can get, Gusoff reported. And parts can get twice as hot if the car isn't working properly.

"A person drives their car home from work, they've been on the road for an hour or half-hour, it's enough under normal operating conditions for the exhaust system to get hot enough," Priest said, adding even damp leaves can dry out quickly and ignite.

Fire officials also pointed out that even parking on top of garbage could start a fire.

Luckily, no one was injured.

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