Surrey RCMP is trying to locate a suspect who was allegedly driving a ‘gas van’ that burst into flames following a hit-and-run incident on Sunday.

At approximately 5:20 p.m. PT, a white van smashed into a pick-up truck on 104th Avenue near Scott Road and immediately fled eastbound, turning right at 122nd Street and exploding after apparently catching fire. 

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but police say there was a large gas tank in the back, an observation consistent with a number of recent incidents in Metro Vancouver involving vans with modified gas tanks.

Surrey gas van

RCMP are investigating after the Surrey Fire Service discovered a large gas tank in the back of a van that exploded following a hit-and-run incident in Surrey on Sunday evening. (CBC)

In October, a van filled with several hundred litres of gas smashed into a residential wall and exploded on Oak Street in Vancouver. The driver and passenger fled, but were later admitted to hospital with significant burns.

Since then, police have arrested two other men who were found driving modified vans and in possession of stolen credit cards.

Police believe that thieves are using stolen credits cards to purchase large amounts of gasoline, which is stored in custom made gas tanks that can hold up to 1,000 litres of gas, and then re-selling the gas on the black market.

The driver of the van fled on foot just before the fire broke out, but a nearby witness gave chase and managed to get a clear look at the man.

“He was Asian, between 18 and 20, and he didn’t have glasses on or anything. He was wearing light clothing, about 150 pounds,” said Paula, the witness who provided the suspect description to police.

CBC News agreed not to reveal Paula’s surname to ensure her safety. 

Vancouver Fire Chief John McKearney says the recent incidents have fire departments on high alert due to increased risks of explosions, and that the problem of ‘gas vans’ seems to be growing.

“This is a phenomenon that seems to have just come about. I am sure it has been around underground, but it is just now hitting a peak,” he told CBC News.

Surrey RCMP says it hopes to get a better handle on how widespread the problem is in the coming weeks. 

With files from CBC's Richard Zussman