A riding lawnmower burst into flame on Wednesday, July 10, at the home of Polk City resident Jim Ryan, destroying the mower and causing damage to an SUV belonging to a family member.

Ryan was alerted to the fire by a passerby knocking on his door after having reported the fire. "I had just mowed in the back and went inside, and pretty soon I hear a knock on my door," Ryan said. A woman who had driven by and seen the burning lawn tractor had called it in. She knocked on the door to make sure the residents were safe and to alert them to the fire.

The fire was reported at 3:57 p.m., said Polk City Deputy Fire Chief Rich Davis. At that time, he was returning from a medical call in an ambulance when he saw the smoke from the mile-long bridge west of town. The ambulance rushed back to the station to allow fire fighters to prepare for the call.

Police officer Matt Aicher used fire extinguishers on the lawnmower before the fire truck arrived, but the flames returned in moments. "I knew it wasn’t going to work with all the gas that was probably in there," Aicher said.

The fire drew a crowd of neighbors and passersby who observed as police tried to drown the flames. Ryan also sprayed water on the garage with a garden hose to prevent serious damage. Davis said he did not believe the siding received much, if any, damage, though it was discolored by soot from the fire.

The lawnmower was not malfunctioning or showing signs of mechanical difficulty while Ryan was mowing. It was sitting next to his garage and behind a parked SUV when it ignited. The passenger-side tail lights and passenger side of the SUV’s bumper were melted by the flames.

The cause of the fire is not known. Davis said that while the ignition source is unknown, it is possible that the dry conditions coupled with the heat of the lawnmower’s motor may have caused the grass underneath it to ignite.

"He said he normally parks it inside (the garage), so thank God he didn’t do that," Davis said.