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Fire engulfs rental car lot at Southwest Florida International Airport

April 4, 2020
Nathan Mayberg , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A mammoth fire that broke out Friday in a rental car overflow lot in a grassy area off Terminal Road at the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers burning or damaging thousands of cars, is currently not considered suspicious.

Devin Galetta, Director of Communications for the state fire marshal's office, said the investigation is active and ongoing but no further details are available as to the cause of a fire that destroyed or otherwise caused damage to 3,516 vehicles in a blaze that was not fully put out until Saturday morning

Lee County Port Authority Communications Director Victoria Moreland said all of the cars were unoccupied and there have been no injuries reported, Moreland said.

Article Photos

A Florida Forest Service helicopter drops water on the site of a fire early Friday evening near the Southwest Florida International Airport.

The Fort Myers Beach Fire Department was one of many who responded to the fire as part of the Lee County Fire Service Wildland Response Force. The call came in at about 4:40 p.m., Fort Myers Beach Fire Department Executive Assistant Chief Ron Martin said.

"This fire was particularly unique as it was found in ample open space, close to thick brush," Martin said. "This open space and wind conditions served to fuel the fire, and crews (needed) to contend with a wildland fire and several thousand cars that were on fire."

Moreland said the parking lot where the fire took place served as a storage site for multiple rental car companies. The Airport Firefighting and Rescue Department responded initially to the scene. A call for mutual aid went out with every fire department in Lee County responding. In addition, regional aid came from Charlotte, Hendy and Collier counties.

Fort Myers Beach Fire Department Executive Assistant Fire Chief of Operations Scott Wirth led a strike team consisting of the South Trail Fire Department, Ion McGregor Fire Department, San Carlos Park Fire Department, Estero Fire Department, Bonita Springs Fire Department, and the South Trail Fire Department in response to the fire.

According to Arlene Salac, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration, no flights were delayed or impacted by the fire.

Moreland said two Southwest flights were cancelled but not due to the smoke. Moreland said there may be a residual smell of smoke in the area but the fire is out and being monitored.

Melinda Avni, spokesperson for the Florida Forest Service, said the agency responded to the fire at the overflow rental car lot at about 5:30 p.m. with a helicopter and four bulldozers. At that time, the fire site also consisted of five to six acres of brush and woods. What started out as a fire involving 20 cars spread to hundreds of cars and then continued to grow. She said the fire was 95% contained last night and fully contained by Saturday morning.

"The investigation as to cause will be handled by the state fire marshal," Moreland said.

"We appreciate the dedication of all the fire departments and first responders who came to the aid of our fire team at RSW. This response made a critical difference in our ability to minimize property damage and protect lives. We are very grateful," Moreland said.



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