LONGMONT — An explosion inside a car that injured three teenagers Thursday afternoon was sparked when one of the girls lit a cigarette and ignited fumes from aerosol air fresheners the teens had been huffing, police said.
The explosion totaled the Toyota sedan they were sitting in at a parking lot at McIntosh Lake near Harvard Street and Wedgwood Avenue during the lunch hour. An 18-year-old woman and 16-year-old girl suffered first-degree burns, while a 16-year-old who was in the back seat suffered second-degree burns. They were all treated at Longmont United Hospital, Longmont police Cmdr. Tim Lewis said.
“It appears that the people in the vehicle were abusing household aerosol chemicals and that was ignited when one of the girls lit a cigarette,” Lewis said.
Some people inhale fumes from common household chemicals, like aerosols, to get high. The practice is commonly called huffing.
“We have not charged them, obviously, but there is that potential,” Lewis said. “It is illegal to huff toxic vapors.”
He said fire officials remarked it was miraculous that the force of the explosion didn’t more seriously injure or kill any of the teenagers, given the extensive damage to the Toyota. The force of the explosion blew out all of the windows, launched the sunroof into a nearby tree and badly damaged the car’s body. A city forester helped investigators retrieve the sunroof from the tree, Lewis said.
The fumes from the strawberry-raspberry and mango-pineapple aerosols also had worked their way into the car’s ventilation system, according to to police.
“The dash was just disintegrated inside that car,” Lewis said.
Two men working on an underground electrical line near an outbuilding at the lake were the first to reach the teens after the explosion.
Josh Schafer and C.J. Earhart said the teens were at the lake’s parking lot for about an hour listening to music loudly before the explosion.
“We were working on the other side of the building and after the boom, it sounded like a cat was screaming. After we came around the corner we saw it was a girl,” Schafer said.
When the men reached the car, the girl who was sitting in the back seat was already crawling out of a window and the other two girls were sitting in the car, they said. Both men said there was no fire and they noticed a sweet scent just before it was overpowered by the smell of burned hair.
The men said they tried to help the other passenger and driver out of the car.
“The driver just wanted to leave. She put it in reverse, and I told her to stop the car,” Earhart said. “After she stopped the car, she told us she was fine. She was acting weird and trying to stuff stuff behind the center panel.”
After getting the teens out of the car, Earhart called police.
Investigators said neighbors said the explosion was so loud that they initially believed it was from an electrical station near the lake.
Lewis said none of the victims attends school.