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Fire damage tally: 3,516 cars

By Staff | Apr 5, 2020

The damage tally is in: 3,516 cars were destroyed or damaged in a fire that started Friday afternoon in an overflow parking lot at the Southwest Florida International Airport.

All of the cars, parked there by multiple rental companies, were unoccupied and no injuries were reported, according to Lee County Port Authority Communications Director Victoria Moreland, who provided the damage numbers.

The fire ignited late Friday afternoon and lasted into the night in a grassy area off Terminal Road in Fort Myers with multiple agencies called to douse the blaze that initially involved about 20 cars in the lot and nearby brush.

That brush fed the fire, contributing to its spread, officials said.

“This fire was particularly unique as it was found in ample open space, close to thick brush,” said Fort Myers Beach Fire Department Executive Assistant Chief Ron Martin. “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.”

The FMBFD was one of the numerous agencies that 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.,

The Airport Firefighting and Rescue Department responded initially. The call for mutual aid then went out with every fire department in Lee County responding. In addition, regional aid came from Charlotte, Hendy and Collier counties as well as the Florida Forest Service.

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.

The Florida Forest Service brought in a firefighting helicopter and bulldozers.

Melinda Avni, spokesperson for the service, said the agency began lending aid at about 5:30 p.m., providing the water-bag equipped chopper 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 blaze involving less that two dozen vehicles spread to hundreds of cars and then continued to grow. She said the fire was 95% contained Friday night and was fully contained by Saturday morning.

The state will handle the investigation as to cause.

“The investigation as to cause will be handled by the State Fire Marshal,” Moreland said.

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.

“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.