A man is lucky to be alive after his minivan was engulfed in flames in downtown Winnipeg Tuesday during the noon hour.

Black smoke filled the area around Portage Avenue and Carlton Street just before 1 p.m. as flames enveloped the van.

Courier Devinder Dhaliwal, the driver of the minivan, drove up on the median before the vehicle went up in flames, he said.

A witness on the scene yelled to Dhaliwal to get out of the vehicle following the sound of the van's tires exploding.

"I opened the door and jumped out," said Dhaliwal. Not long after his exit, the car burst into flames.

Dhaliwal isn't sure what caused him to mount the median on Portage Avenue with his van; things escalated too fast to know what happened, he said.

"I don't know if maybe there was any pot hole or maybe my car pulled me [to the] side," said Dhaliwal.

150 witnesses on the scene

Shasta Welsh was present for the explosion and took some quick pictures on her phone.

“It was up in flames so fast,” said Welsh.

The crash happened in front of the clothing store where she works.

“Right away we went running to the windows and the door, and by that point the van was already engulfed in flames,” said Welsh. “It sounded like it shook the windows, it was really loud and threw a lot of us off guard.”

Across the street Derek Christiansonn’s coworkers heard the crash and he saw the flames.

“I just saw the van on fire and grabbed my mobile device and started recording it,” said Christiansonn.

Christianson said a crowd on the scene quickly grew to around 150 people.

“Within no time flat there was a huge crowd out here,” he said. “Everyone had their devices out and recording and some people even getting way too close, and police were yelling at them.”

Winnipeg Police are investigating the cause of the crash, but Const. Jason Michalyshen said the incident stands as a good reminder that fire can be unpredictable and that people should exercise caution.

“People carry all sorts of flammable material,” said Michalyshen. “Even prior to police arrival, really think about their own personal safety, and if they're in a position and they see someone getting too close, help each other out. Sometimes we all get a little bit of tunnel vision.”