PITTSFIELD — A boat hitch broke and lodged into a traveling vehicle's rear tire, quickly causing a fire so hot it melted the pavement on Route 7 on Wednesday.
Around 2:30 p.m., the driver of a Honda Pilot headed south on Route 7 parked in the road and ran to safety after discovering his vehicle was ablaze.
The operator was towing a pontoon boat and had just left Pontoosuc Lake and left the vehicle just north of Zucchini's Restaurant.
Members of the city's Police and Fire departments soon arrived to find the vehicle fully engulfed in flames and the boat starting to catch fire as well. They took precautions against a possible explosion by shutting down traffic in both directions.
Using dry chemicals pumped through a hose, firefighters extinguished the blaze within 15 minutes.
"We were able to save the boat, so that was good, but the car was a total loss," said Deputy Fire Chief Mark Cancilla. "The fire generated so much heat, it melted the pavement and we had to call [the Department of Environmental Protection] because there's a nearby storm drain that empties into the river."
Responding firefighters plugged the drain, Cancilla said.
Cancilla said the car's boat hitch broke and rammed into one of the vehicle's rear tires. The Fire Department initially believed the Honda's gas tank had ruptured, but investigators found the tank unbroken.
Investigators then came to the preliminary conclusion that the lodged boat hitch caused the tire to throw sparks, which ignited some leaking transmission fluid.
"The tire would have been unable to move, and like a bare-rimmed tire, this can generate a lot of heat," Cancilla said.
Traffic remained blocked in both directions for roughly 45 minutes while responders extinguished the fire and towed the vehicle and boat away.
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.