It was a Saturday morning shocker.

Smoke.  A boom. A car in flames.

A car on a quiet, leafy street in flames.

It was the leaves’ fault. 

No, really.

According to Oak Park Fire Chief Ron Kobyleski, a 2021 Nissan Rogue caught fire Saturday morning at about 11:30 a.m. on the 300 block of North Kenilworth Avenue.

It was parked on a pile of leaves at the curb.

Catalytic converters, he said, can stay hot enough to ignite dry leaves, particularly when they’re piled high enough to touch the converter.

Jennifer GoodSmith was on a neighborhood stroll with her family that morning when she said her brother-in-law saw the car smoking. Then the smoke billowed. 

They called 911. 

As emergency crews were arriving, she and the others watched flames break out from under the car.

“And once that flame took hold,” she said, “it all happened so quickly. It was frightening.”

Flames crawled up the sides of the car, she said. A landscaper tried to use an extinguisher on the car. So did a neighbor. Neither worked. 

Once the gas tank blew – at least she thought it was the gas tank, she said, a fireball shot up to the sky and ignited the leaves of the tree above it.

There was an explosion. Then another. Perhaps the tires. 

And then the windshield broke. 

“It was astonishing,” she said.

Catalytic converters can get as hot as 500⁰F to 800⁰F, experts say.

Kobyleski said the Oak Park fire department extinguished the blaze with water.

He added that such fires are more common than one might think. The village, he added, receives about three to four calls a year for fires like this one.

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