Over 3,500 Rental Cars Destroyed in Fire

A fire erupted near Southwest Florida International Airport last Friday night just before 5 pm. The fire started in a grassy rental car overflow parking lot for the airport. It originally involved twenty cars. As fire crews began responding, the flames quickly spread throughout the grassy area and consumed more vehicles. Eventually, two helicopters were brought in to drop water in the attempt to put out the blaze. Over eighty aerial drops were required during the operation. 

Picture of the rental car lot on fire
An overflow rental car lot at Southwest Florida International Airport was the scene of a fire that destroyed over 3,500 vehicles | Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office

Plenty of smoke

A thick black plume of smoke could be seen rising into the sky from the Fort Myers location. That plume could be seen for 20 miles. Meanwhile, during the fire, according to the New York Post,

“Witnesses said they heard multiple small explosions and flames leaping high into the air as the flames spread across the area.”

During the incident, multiple law enforcement agencies were also on scene to direct traffic on the roads.

A long fight

By 10:30 on Saturday morning, the fire crews had contained and extinguished the fire. That is over eighteen hours the fire teams had to fight to contain the blaze. A total of 3,516 vehicles had some form of damage or were totally destroyed, over what became an area of 15 acres that were engulfed. According to People.com

“The fire triggered responses from Airport Fire Department, South Trail Fire Department, Lehigh Acres Fire Department, Estero Fire Department, San Carlos Fire Department, Bayshore Fire Department, City of Fort Myers Fire Department, Fort Myers Beach Fire Department, Bonita Springs Fire Department, Sanibel Fire Department and Iona-McGregor Fire Department.”

Response teams monitored the area Saturday morning to make sure there were no surprises from any part of the ruins that might have been smoldering. The cause of the fire is still being investigated by the state Fire Marshall, although record heat and low rainfall may have contributed to the fire’s spread once it ignited. 

Tweet showing the progress putting out the fire
Tweet from the Florida Forest Service regarding the fire at the overflow rental car lot | Florida Forest Service

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Fort Myers Beach Fire Department Executive Assistant Chief Ronald Martin said via email to the Cape Coral Daily Breeze,

“This fire was particularly unique as it was found in ample open space, close to thick brush. This open space and wind conditions served to fuel the fire, and crews need to contend with a wildland fire and several thousand cars that were on fire.”

Recovery begins

After the fire, the recovery began. More than 3,800 other undamaged rental vehicles from multiple rental agencies had to be relocated. The airport also thanked those who responded to the blaze. On its Facebook page it posted, 

“Thank you to the regional mutual aid fire departments and Division of Forestry for their heroic efforts in aiding RSW in last night’s fire We appreciate their courage and willingness to help our Aircraft Rescue & Fire Fighting department. Together they were able to keep all our passengers and airport visitors safe,”

No structures at the airport were damaged, and there were no injuries associated with the blaze. Fortunately, all the vehicles were unoccupied at the time.