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A group of women escaped serious harm Sunday morning after a limousine they were planning to ride to a birthday party burst into flames while it idled in a driveway at a Northern California retirement community, police said.
The blaze in Walnut Creek, Calif., happened a month after five women en route to a bridal party were killed while trapped in a flame-engulfed limousine on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge near San Francisco – less than an hour away from the scene of Sunday’s fire.
Police officers and Contra Costa County Fire District teams were dispatched to the Rossmoor gated community at 11:30 a.m. Sunday after reports of a vehicle fire, said Walnut Creek Police Lt. Jay Hill.
When responders arrived, the 10 women in the limousine – many of them in their 90s — had already escaped the burning 2009 Lincoln Town Car, according to Hill.
The passengers smelled smoke as the limousine driver prepared to pull out of a residential driveway and take them to one of the women’s 90th birthday party in scenic Sonoma, Calif., a popular tourist destination, Hill said.
Elayne Lofchie, the woman celebrating her ninetieth year, told NBC Bay Area that the fire seemingly came out of nowhere.
“I don’t understand how it happened. I really don’t,” Lofchie told NBC Bay Area. “One minute everything is fine and the next minute it was chaos.”
Soon, the limousine was consumed in flames. The unidentified driver and the women’s caretaker quickly pulled the group away from the growing blaze, which rapidly engulfed the entire vehicle. Firefighters extinguished the flames just before 12 p.m., according to Hill.
Hill said that initial reports of a limo fire raised alarm among police officials because it was strikingly similar to the May 4 inferno near San Francisco. Authorities have not yet determined the cause of that lethal blaze.
Officials still do not know what caused Sunday’s fire but have determined that there was no criminal wrongdoing in the incident, Hill said. The California Highway Patrol has been notified and will conduct an investigation.
Fortunately, none of the ten women sustained any injuries or inhaled smoke during Sunday's incident, according to Hill.