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June 12, 2014 06:00 PM

Man Escapes Burning Car With Minor Injuries

Dell Rapids, SD

A Dell Rapids man is seeing a burn specialist after running through a wall of flames.  James Hallem was trapped in his car after a trenching crew hit a gas line and the fuel exploded.

"Everything.  It just melted everything," Hallem said.

As Hallem dug through the melted remains in his Ford Explorer, the former policeman could not help thinking about how fortunate he is to be alive.

"The flames shot out about five, ten feet all the way around and about ten to 15 feet over the Ford. I was just right in the middle of a mass ball of fire," Hallem said.

Hallem said his career in law enforcement helped him to remain calm; at least calmer than a bystander who was encouraging him to run.

"He said, 'Get out, get out!' I think he was about ready to have a heart attack," Hallem said.

He tried to restart his car and drive out. When that failed, Hallem decided to bail.

"So, I opened the door and I ran through the flames. I got out of it and that's how I got burned," Hallem said.

His hair was singed, but Hallem said he did not feel any pain the day it happened. Then his face blistered up overnight forcing him to see a doctor and then a specialist.  Now a handyman who repairs washers and dryers, he lost all of his tools in the fire.  A cell phone and a pair of glasses are also gone.  Even so, he is still thankful for how it all turned out.

"I am so grateful that nobody else got hurt and it didn't set all these buildings on fire," Hallem said.

He can even laugh about it now.

"It just blew up so fast. I wasn't in there more than maybe a couple of minutes at the most, but she was just an inferno all the way around the vehicle and that guy that was trying to get me out, I really thought he was going to have a heart attack," Hallem said.

Now every one he meets reminds him how lucky he is, but Hallem says there's more to it than that...

"I had someone looking over me," Hallem said.

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