Fuel fireball claims racer’s life
Classic enthusiast succumbs to fatal injuries while working on his vehicle
A former racing driver and classic car owner has died in a fireball believed to have been sparked by static when he rubbed his hands on his clothes – which were soaked in petrol.
Great-grandfather Fred Saunders, 84, sustained fatal burns during the freak accident at his home while he was draining the tank of his motorhome following a small petrol leak. Fred had previously raced Crossle single seaters and owned a Standard 8.
During the work, Fred’s fleece jacket and trousers became covered in fuel. It is understood that his clothes then ignited through the static electricity caused when he tried to wipe his hands clean. His partner, Sue Read, managed to extinguish the flames and called the emergency services who attended their home near Yeoford, Devon, at around 7.30pm on 16 April.
Fred was treated at the scene before being flown to Southmead Hospital in Bristol but died at 3pm the following day.
Sue said that her husband had enjoyed a Sunday at Hatherleigh Autojumble and watching the Formula 1 on television before he started working on his vehicle. She says: ‘I think I was aware of something. I have been trying to work it out and can’t – it was just a blur. He was working on his old camper van, and then – whoosh! I just went numb and turned into a transfixed rabbit in the head lights.
‘He was a lovely bloke. Kind, generous – and stubborn. There was a right way, a wrong way – and Fred’s way. He was a one-off. A very, practical man. Lots of people are saying that he was a legend.’
Fred was a member of the Devon Vintage Car Club, which runs the autojumble he attended on the day of the fire. Club secretary Maurice Williams says: ‘Fred was a long-time member of The Devon Vintage Car Club with his partner, Sue. He was extremely well-liked in the community and will be sorely missed. The Club offers our sincere condolences to Sue and to his children and grandchildren.’
As well as being a former racing driver, Fred also held jobs as a pub landlord, sailor, pilot, farmer, deep sea welder, and even kept Shire horses. A full inquest is expected to be held at a later date.