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Fire sweeps through rental car lot at Southwest Florida International Airport

By Staff | Apr 4, 2020

A fire that broke out late Friday afternoon in a grassy area off Terminal Road at the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers damaged thousands of vehicles in a rental car parking lot.

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

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 until the agency lost count, she said, adding an exact count of the cars lost is not yet available, pending an investigation by the state fire marshal

The fire was 95% contained last night and fully contained by Saturday morning, Avni said.

Fort Myers Beach Fire Department, which got their call at about 4:40 p.m. Friday was among the multiple agencies responding as part of the Lee County Fire Service Wildland Response Force.

“This fire was located in a car rental lot consisting of approximately 10,000 cars. Per the incident commander on scene an estimated 3,000-4,000 were burned,” said FMBD Executive Assistant Chief Ronald Martin via email Saturday morning. “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.”

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.

“The investigation as to cause will be handled by the state fire marshal. I do not have the answers at this time as to the number of cars and what car rental agencies were involved,” 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.

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.