Saskatoon

'I couldn't breathe': Sask. man narrowly escapes after vehicle catches fire

Barry Chalifoux says he’s lucky to be alive after what seemed like a slight car malfunction turned into a terrifying ordeal.

Barry Chalifoux was trapped inside of his burning car as it filled with smoke

The charred remains of Barry Chalifoux's 2015 Ford Edge. (Barry Chalifoux)

Barry Chalifoux says he's lucky to be alive after what seemed like a slight car malfunction turned into a terrifying ordeal.

On July 10, Chalifoux started on his regular weekly work commute from Loon Lake, Sask., to English River First Nation — a journey roughly 305 kilometres to the northeast — when he noticed that something was off around Beauval, Sask., close to halfway through his trip.

"I was getting closer to Beauval when I saw smoke coming in. I saw smoke from the hood and also I could smell it coming into the vehicle," he said.

Barry Chalifoux suffered nerve damage to his leg from a third-degree burn. (Barry Chalifoux)

Seconds later, the front of his 2015 Ford Edge — a car that he had owned for less than a year — was engulfed in flames leaving him unable to use his power brakes because the electrical components had stopped working. No electrical meant his doors and windows were also inoperable. 

"I pulled into the side of the road to try to slow myself down and when the vehicle came to a stop, I tried getting out of the vehicle but [that] wasn't working either."

Unable to unlock the doors or roll down the windows, Chalifoux was trapped inside of his car while it quickly filled up with black smoke.

"I couldn't breathe so I was holding my breath and I could feel my leg burning," he said.

After struggling with the door, he was able to push it open to escape the burning vehicle.

"I didn't know what to think. I was just trying to get out. It just happened so fast, it scared me."

He dialled 911 and watched his SUV burn for the next 15 minutes until emergency crews arrived to put out the flames.

"By then, my vehicle already blew up a couple times and everything was burnt."

Chalifoux suffered third-degree burns to his leg which resulted in nerve damage.

Barry Chalifoux was trapped inside of his burning car as it filled with smoke 0:45

Not covered by insurance

His streak of bad luck didn't end there.

When the RCMP on scene ran his plates, Chalifoux was told that his licence had been suspended due to an unpaid fine from a past speeding ticket.

He said he assured officers that it was a fine he had forgotten about and would pay it immediately. He said he was so inundated with work as a crisis and mental wellness contractor in English River that he put the ticket off. 

"In English River we had 36 teenagers — some preteens between 11 and 12 — that were at risk of suicide so I've been here since January dealing with it," he said.

"I've been so busy up here that I figured, 'Well, I know I have a fine. I'll just pay it at the courthouse [later].'"

The front of Barry Chalifoux's 2015 Ford Edge erupted into flames leaving him unable to use his brakes. (Barry Chalifoux)

But since his licence was suspended at the time of the accident, his Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) coverage was denied.

According to an SGI spokesperson, a claim submitted by a person with a suspended licence will not be covered, regardless of whether the insurance has been paid for.

Chalifoux said he has since reached out to Ford Canada to get some answers because the company's past recalls on vehicles related to fire risk.

The car company told CBC News there were no recalls affecting Chalifoux's vehicle but they would investigate the incident.

Chalifoux said he has since been able to get back behind the wheel of a car but now drives with his windows rolled down at all times.  

About the Author

Victoria Dinh

CBC Saskatoon reporter

Victoria Dinh is a journalist with CBC Saskatoon. She is also a co-host, writer and producer of the CBC investigative podcast, The Pit. Get in touch with Victoria by emailing victoria.dinh@cbc.ca