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April 17, 2021

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WSP: Driver lights himself, his vehicle on fire on I-5 near Kelso

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Washington State Patrol troopers Thursday morning connected a 52-year-old Kelso man with mental health resources after reporting he ignited a fire in his car and then tried to light himself on fire.

The incident sparked a brief arson investigation and temporarily closed northbound Interstate 5 near Exit 39 to Kelso, according to a news release. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, no criminal charges had been filed.

“There is no crime involved that I’m aware of at this point. … Charges are still under investigation, but it was his vehicle, from what I’m being told. And he was the one who started the fire,” said WSP spokesperson Will Finn.

WSP is not releasing the man’s name for privacy reasons.

Troopers encountered the man around 7:30 a.m. Thursday while responding to reports about a car fire on Interstate 5. By that point, the man had lit a fire in his vehicle, a Jaguar, and was “shoving paper into his (jacket) pockets” and trying to ignite the paper with a lighter, Finn said.

“It sounds like he was never successful on lighting himself on fire, due to the fact that, thank goodness, he was wearing a coat that was fire retardant,” Finn said.

The troopers subdued the man shortly before crews with Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue arrived to extinguish the car fire, Finn said. By that point, the Jaguar was fully engulfed in flames, according to a Cowlitz 2 news release.

“Fire grows in vehicles really quickly because of all of the different types of things that are burning,” said Cowlitz 2 Lt. Stu Hodnot. “You’ve got plastic and foams that burn hot and quickly.”

As firefighters worked to extinguish the flames, Cowlitz 2 and WSP closed the all northbound lanes of I-5 in the area to keep drivers and first responders safe.

“The wind shifted, and then of course when we put water on it, it created a significant amount of steam as well, which is a problem for visibility,” Hodnot said.

Troopers also took the man to PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center for an evaluation, Finn said. He did not have any obvious injuries or burns, Hodnot added.

“It appears the man was suffering from a mental health crisis. Troopers were able to get him transported to St. John for evaluation, and to get him some help he might possibly need,” Finn said.

The roadway reopened shortly after 8:05 a.m., and the fire crews cleared out about 10 minutes later.

“We were successful in making it a short-term incident,” Hodnot said.

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