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July 10, 2014 7:37 am

Tragedy narrowly averted thanks to runaway ramp

Written by Ilene Olson

Betsy Jensen of Powell took this photo of a 32-foot Fleetwood motor coach as it burned on a runaway truck ramp. Jensen said the ramp is below Deer Haven Lodge and just above a very sharp corner east of Ten Sleep on U.S. Highway 16 on July 6. Even from a distance, Jensen could hear popping and hissing and could feel the heat from the fire. The Thompson family from Oregon Hills, Calif., was able to exit the motor home without injury. Betsy Jensen of Powell took this photo of a 32-foot Fleetwood motor coach as it burned on a runaway truck ramp. Jensen said the ramp is below Deer Haven Lodge and just above a very sharp corner east of Ten Sleep on U.S. Highway 16 on July 6. Even from a distance, Jensen could hear popping and hissing and could feel the heat from the fire. The Thompson family from Oregon Hills, Calif., was able to exit the motor home without injury. Photo courtesy Betsy Jensen

Family escapes after motor coach loses brakes, burns  

Cascading mechanical problems initially caused by hot brakes culminated in a fire that consumed a full-size motor coach east of Ten Sleep on July 3.

The fire started shortly after the out-of-control motor home, towing a Jeep, careened onto a runaway truck ramp off off U.S. Highway 16 in the Big Horn Mountains.

Worland Fire Chief Chris Kocher said the motor home belonged to the Thompson family — parents and their young daughter — from Oregon Hills, Calif. Kocher didn’t have their first names.

Kocher said Mr. Thompson was driving the motor home, a 32-foot Fleetwood motor coach, down the mountain at about 5 p.m. July 3 when the brakes began feeling spongy and smelling hot. Thompson attempted to downshift to first gear, but by that time, the transmission also was hot, and he was unable to do so.

“It was a cascading effect due to heat buildup,” Kocher said.

The motor home’s brakes failed completely as Thompson desperately drove around a curve on the highway.

“Then he came around and noticed the runaway truck ramp and was able to steer up the incline and utilize the ramp. The motor home shut down about 20 feet from the top of the ramp,” Kocher said.

After it stopped, the family exited the motor coach, and Thompson “noticed that the brakes were red hot, and the passenger rear tire had ignited.”

He put the fire out with an extinguisher. He then detached the Jeep, and the family drove farther down the canyon toward Ten Sleep until they got cell service, and Thompson called AAA for help. When the Thompsons returned to the motor home, they found it on fire.

Meanwhile, a passerby called 911 to report the fire, and the Ten Sleep Fire Department was paged at 5:10 p.m. The motor home was fully in flames when Ten Sleep firefighters arrived, Kocher said.

The Worland Fire Department, 38 miles away, was notified at 5:24 p.m., with the first personnel arriving at 5:53 p.m., he said.

“It was fully involved at that time and pretty well consumed” down to the steel rails in the frame, Kocher said.

The fire burned so hot that it also burned about one tenth of an acre around the motor home.

“Crews were able to extinguish the fire and contain the fire to the RV,” Cocher said.

Trooper Susan Wilson with the Wyoming Highway Patrol also responded to the scene, but since it wasn’t considered a crash, there was no report and she had no additional information.

“The mom and dad and little girl, they were pretty shaken up, but they were OK,” Wilson said.

Betsy Jensen of Powell took photos of the motor home as it burned, which she provided to the Powell Tribune. She said she could hear popping and hissing and could feel the heat from the fire.

“It was not a pretty sight,” Jensen said in an email.

“They are a very, very, lucky family,” Kocher said. “Because if that ramp hadn’t been there, this probably would have been a very different story.”

5 comments

  • Comment Link July 11, 2014 12:23 pm posted by Cap

    I'm glad everybody is O.K., but you people from out of state need to learn to OBEY traffic signs,,ie,SLOW DOWN on mountain roads with sharp curves. Most of those curves are posted 25 mph, especially with a large vehicle that is towing another large vehicle.
    It should be MANDATORY to posess a class A commercial drivers license to operate all those motorhomes, towing a car or not...

  • Comment Link July 11, 2014 3:52 pm posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    Cap,many of us own motor homes and have no problem in mountains, these out of state people come to the Rocky Mountain states and lose all fathom of common sense.I am actually surprised they got out OK.

  • Comment Link July 13, 2014 8:03 pm posted by lee

    Wow such harsh comment's. I take it you two have problem's with out of state people. My question to both of you, have either of you ever traveled the the great USA? How would your common sense hold up in New York, California, Texas. Let's all be thankful to god this family had the wonderful people of Wyoming to help them.

  • Comment Link July 14, 2014 7:52 am posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    lee,as a a matter of fact I have been to 45 of this country's states,including a 12 year stint in Alaska,over the past 62 years in all sorts of RV's and even on foot,so your dog don't hunt.I have never had a problem like the one in this story as common sense was used in every aspect.City people have very little common sense anymore,like it or not.

  • Comment Link July 14, 2014 1:55 pm posted by Johnathan

    I don't have problems with out of state people. I have problems with bad drivers.

    I've towed a gooseneck load of straw over the Big Horns many times- going through Shell, and Through Ten Sleep.

    The time to downshift is early. You shouldn't ride the brakes. I know the smell distinctly- every time I cross the mountain, a tourist always has hot brakes.

    I see no reason why someone should be allowed to operate ANY vehicle over 26000# gross without a CDL. If anything, I'd give a break to the commercial drivers. They do it a lot more than a couple from California on vacation, and will have more experience.

    Please, if you come out here, read up on mountain driving, or at least, stop in Sheridan or Greybull and ask someone.

    The life you save could be your own...

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