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A Portage County woman is counting her blessings after escaping a burning van, with some help from an off-duty fire chief.
Valerie Mika was headed home to Edinburg on Interstate 76, just west of S.R. 43 in Brimfield, at about 2:30 p.m Sunday when she noticed smoke coming from her vehicle. She pulled over to the side of the highway, and managed to escape minutes before the vehicle was engulfed in flames.
"I was just driving down the road and boom," she said.
Brimfield Fire Chief Craig Mullaly happened to be driving behind the 2001 Ford E-150 van when he noticed smoke coming from the vehicle ahead of him. Mullaly, who was off duty at the time, pulled over to see if he could help.
He made sure Mika got out of the vehicle and checked to make sure nobody else was inside, then encouraged her to move away from the van and called for help. He estimated the entire van was engulfed in flames within about two minutes.
The Brimfield police and fire departments responded to the scene. A dispatcher from the Ohio State Highway Patrol said both lanes of eastbound traffic were closed for about 10 minutes.
"I guess I was just in the right place at the right time," he said.
Mika said the van is her husband's vehicle, which he uses for work. The couple was not aware of any mechanical problems that could have resulted in the blaze.
Hours later, she said she was still in shock. She was grateful that none of her grandchildren or other family members were inside, and that the fire happened in a place where it's less likely to spread to houses or properties.
"At least I'm not hurt and nobody else was hurt," she said. "Now we've got to deal with insurance and shopping for another vehicle. But everybody is fine."