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3,500 Rental Cars Damaged in Fire in Florida

In what can only be described as a "what could possibly happen next" freak accident, a fire broke out Friday in a temporary outdoor grass-covered parking lot where rental cars from Southwest Florida International Airport were parked, burning or damaging at least 3,500 vehicles. The blaze spread over at least 15 acres in all. While the investigation into the cause of the fire is still ongoing, photos and numerous witness comments are providing answers.

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Photo: CBS News

The video shows a large number of vehicles parked on a grass-covered area. It appears that several were reportedly driven before being parked there with exhaust pipes that were still hot. Heat and easily flammable materials are never a good cocktail. The suspicion is that this could be the cause of the fire.

The deeper cause, of course, is the coronavirus, again. With airports at a near-standstill and few people traveling, cars that would normally be in service are idled – and need to be parked somewhere. Normally these vehicles would not be sitting on the grass.

The fire prompted a combined response from fire departments throughout Lee County, as well as assistance from aviation units and fire departments in neighbouring Charlotte and Collier counties. Law enforcement was also present to help control traffic and direct passengers to new temporary parking lots and areas away from the scene. The Charlotte County aviation unit carried out 80 drops over the fire.

The fire was fully contained and extinguished by Saturday, after first responders fought the fire overnight from Friday to Saturday, ensuring that the flames could be extinguished and further damage to surrounding areas avoided. 3,800 rental cars belonging to various companies were moved to a safer area and suffered no damage.

Fortunately, there were no reported injuries, and authorities are in the process of investigating the blaze. With temperatures in Florida sometimes reaching 30 degrees Celsius, a general drought and lack of rain, fires are common at this time of year. Hopefully the incident will serve as a reminder of the potential consequences of parking nearly 7,500 cars in an open field on grass, in hot weather.