Utah woman warns others after car catches fire days after oil change

Jan 18, 2024, 11:15 PM | Updated: Jan 19, 2024, 5:38 am

SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake City woman is warning others to be careful where they get their oil changed. She believes a potential car shop mistake led to the vehicle bursting into flames as she drove on a two-lane highway in Wyoming on the way home from visiting family for Christmas.

Laura Hopkinson is devastated by the aftermath because of the items she lost. She watched a video on her phone of a car overtaken by fire. In the video, in addition to the crackling of flames, Hopkinson can hear herself sobbing.

“I didn’t really have it together, I would say,” she said.

Her car, which was a 2011 Subaru she was borrowing from her father, caught fire on Jan. 2 on U.S. Highway 189 in Wyoming, between Kemmerer and Evanston.

In the video, Hopkinson’s car sits there ablaze with the darkness of the desolate highway surrounding it. At the time, Hopkinson was making the several-hour drive back home to Sugar House from visiting her dad, two brothers, and their family for two weeks around the Christmas holiday.

The car was stuffed to the brim with holiday goodies and her belongings from the extended trip.

“I had five or six totes full of stuff that was in there,” she said.

Hopkinson’s Mac laptop, Christmas presents, clothing, toiletries and a collection built up over the years of holiday baking, candy and cookie-making supplies were all burnt to a crisp.

“You know, all the little things that you don’t even remember that you have in there,” she said.

Hopkinson explained that as she drove south on the highway that evening, the check engine, check oil, and temperature gauge lights suddenly flashed on. She pulled over and sat there, wondering what was going on.

She explained that a bystander in a work truck with orange and white flashing lights also pulled over, and frantically ran up to the car.

“He’s like, ‘You got to get out of the car, your car’s on fire!'” Hopkinson said. “So, he’s having me get out of the car. I did not see any fire. I didn’t smell any smoke or anything like that until the car door was opened.”

They popped her hood, and Hopkinson could see the engine was burning, and the fire was spreading quickly.

Laura Hopkinson said a bystander helped her out of the burning car on the way home to Utah.

Laura Hopkinson said a bystander helped her out of the burning car on the way home to Utah. (KSL TV)

In less than eight minutes from when she first pulled over, Hopkinson said the car completely burned down to the frame.

“I don’t think it really registered until I saw how engulfed in flames my car was,” she said.

In her sobbing video, Hopkinson was thinking not just of the holiday goodies and her belongings, but the memories she was losing.

Hopkinson was bringing home several mementos and heirloom pieces passed down from her late mother.

“What meant the most was a pair of blue glass, angel earrings that my mom got me about 15 years ago. And they’re … they’re burnt up and gone,” she said, getting choked up as she spoke.

She had also been taking home her mother’s handwritten recipe cards. Nothing was salvaged from the fire.

Uinta County Fire and Ambulance responded to the fire, along with the Wyoming Highway Patrol. The Evanston Fire Department team told KSL TV that the Hopkinson told them the car had just been serviced and that they found a trail of oil that had leaked and spilled on the highway leading right to the vehicle. While they couldn’t say for certain what happened, they concluded the engine failed.

Fire fighters put out Hopkinson's car fire on Highway 189 in Wyoming on January 2

Firefighters put out Hopkinson’s car fire on Highway 189 in Wyoming on Jan. 2 (Uinta County Fire and Ambulance)

Hopkinson said the car had just gotten an oil change three days before the trip.

“It looked like the oil filter popped off because someone didn’t take the second ring off,” she said, of what the firefighters and troopers explained to her on scene. “Oil all over the road is a big, huge indicator. That’s because your oil just doesn’t fall out on the road, all of it at once.”

She’s glad the bystander got her out just in time. She’s now cautioning others when they take their car into the shop to be aware of the work being done on it and check parts like the O-ring.

“That was a that was a life or death mistake that was made, that could have been even more horrible than what happened,” Hopkinson said.

Her father’s car is also a total loss, and Hopkinson said the liability insurance won’t cover replacing it.

She’s now figuring out how to build back up what burnt down in just moments. She won’t be able to replace what she inherited from her mom, but Hopkinson’s co-workers generously set up a GoFundMe* to help her recover her baking supplies collection, clothing, toiletries, and other items she lost in the fire.

*KSL TV does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

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Utah woman warns others after car catches fire days after oil change