Back to Squawk list
  • 66

A fire at a Florida airport destroyed more than 3,500 rental cars

A fire that spread through a grassy area of Southwest Florida International Airport has destroyed thousands of rental cars, fire department officials said. The blaze began Friday, spanned 15 acres and originally involved only 20 cars in the grassy rental car overflow area at the airport in Fort Myers, fire department officials said. But by the time it was extinguished, the flames had destroyed more than 3,500 rental cars, a Lee County Port Authority spokesperson told CNN affiliate WINK. ( More...

Sort type: [Top] [Newest]

bbabis 11
I doubt that this was an intentional act. More than likely it was a poor decision to use that area and not take any additional precautions. With the almost total lack of airport use, it seams that they could easily have been parked in unused hard surfaced parking areas. Live and learn. Glad it was only a financial loss.
bbabis 20
Since the catalytic converter, parking cars on grass has always been a recipe for disaster unless you're looking for an insurance buyout.
Adi Rabadi 5
I am not sure that rental companies don't insure themselves.

But regardless: RTFM All car manuals state not to park on grass.
Chris Gladden 3
Yes. Self insure is the model used for one or more of the rental car giants. That’s a $75M+ asset loss on revenue generating assets. Big hit to the bottom line in a perilous time. Company employees will be impacted. Hope they have good relationships to help them through.

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

Exactly ! ! ! Just follow the money . . .
stardog01 5
Would be interesting to know if rental companies self insure for this type of loss, or if they have policies with actual insurance companies for this coverage.

Also wonder what rental car companies used that grassy area for storage. My first through was what a stupid way to store cars. Although other comments here point out that with travel way down this may have been a fast way to store a large amount of unused vehicles.
canuck44 11
Actually they all use that area as most of the tourons have gone and dropped their cars off at RSW which normally is very busy but incoming flights are empty. None are picking up cars and the on airport pick up spots are full. We have had no rain here for a month and the temperatures have been in the high 80s and low 90s. Grass fires are common here at this time of year often from lightening but almost anything will start burning. Some of those care were driven from Tampa or Miami before being dropped off so will be good and hot.
Chris B 3
They self insured up to a point, then their insurance over and above a certain dollar figure. These catastrophic losses will definitely hit that point.
David Craig 0
commercial property insurance
john Gargiulo 8
Most people from SW Florida know that parking your car on a dry grass will cause a fire due to the hot catalytic converter that sparks fires. This includes fires when people pull their car off the road to the grassy ares and next thing they know they started a fire and their car burns up. The problem is most of the people in Florida are now from other states. SW Florida regional airport has had bad management for years and should have build extended paved area for the overflow.
Greg Cotten 3
I did not see the fire-marshal ruling on the cause and origin of the fire yet? I don't believe either the airlines nor the car rental companies had a lay-up plan for these unprecedented times. In San Diego rental cars are parked in unpaved lots across the street from the airport, I suspect same story across the country. Based on the pictures on the net, a fire on the tarmac in Atlanta would pretty much take out the Delta fleet just like on Ford Island on Dec 7, 1941!

Densely packed cars and planes Present an elevated risk; just as densely packed cities are not good for virus containment.
James Simms 1
There are @ least 40-50 Delta jets @ BHM & I’m sure more across the South/Southwest
mixpro55 3
Arizona has about 10.000 rental cars and trucks parked in a huge dirt lot in Chandler because there's no place to keep them . Not enough tourist coming to town now.
Hot catalytic converter + Dry grass = Disaster
I feel for the last traveling salesperson to not pay for the insurance on his rental. Now it's all on him/her.
lynx318 2
Isn't anyone responsible for keeping the undergrowth cut?
AWAAlum 2
You'd just have to figure out how to mow under 3,500 cars.
Torsten Hoff 1
That’s not really a problem. The lot needs to be mowed before cars are parked there. Once cars are parked over the grass it will grow more slowly, and when the cars leave again they should be fine as long as they don’t idle in place after the engine is started and keep moving.
AWAAlum 2
Well, it seems what "needs" to happen may not have.
lynx318 0
Even between the cars would have slowed the carnage. Insurance company of the property owner will use it as a loophole.
Flynbike 2
Reminds me of a long ago Arizona outdoor concert that ended badly.
Jackson Browne and others did a show at Arcosanti (worth looking up on its own) that incinerated quite a few vehicles, allegedly started in dry grass by a hot converter in one of the cars.
canuck44 3
This is an overflow lot which normally would be empty or close to it if tourism had not shut down in March. Normally as things finally slow down here the extra cars that had been brought for the Tourons would then be hauled North. Given the current market they will be better off grabbing the insurance rather than pay to drag them North and have them sid there.
Larry White 3
What I wanno know is,, did they have Hemis??? I'm looking for a 5.7 Hemi for my Jeep Renegade Limited 2.4 multi-air 4 cyl, 9-spd tranny. 4X4. I'm going to call my buddy who lives close by there. I shirley miss QFA 7 & 8 here at DFW!!
lynx318 3
Why is this getting downvotes, it's amusing!
VKSheridan 8
Because everyone knows a 6.2 Hellcat Hemi will occupy the same space and Larry shouldn’t settle for a 5.7 if he wants to impress the chicks.....
djames225 4
If you're going that route, just bump some sheet metal and drop in a Demon Hemi...that'll impress everyone.
VKSheridan 3
Good thinking but then we’d have to do something with Larry’s itty bitty fuel tank. If my numbers are right, he’d have about 7 minutes of fuel at full load RPM. I think the 4 corner burn out would almost be worth it!
lynx318 2
Any Hemi would be an improvement on a 2.4!
bbabis 2
Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
David Craig 1
That would be one HOT Hemi
patrickmalone 2
Some risk manager just got fired over that one. Nice lack of risk mitigation there, not!
car rental agencies are either a franchise operation,where the cars are actually leased from the corporation,or they are a corporate owned station and the cars belong to the car rental company,whether it is hertz or national or budget or thrifty or avis or whomever..there are car sales departments for the corporate stations, and the franchises turn the cars back in to the company basically every year and a half or so, or at whatever mileage they decide,in order to get the newer the larger stations and larger airports for example,the car rental agencies do maintain a certain on site parking area,and gnerally have another large lot,or field or "overflow area" to park vehicles not is use,which are brought to the line for washing,servicing and rental as needed..a fire in an overflow area causing many cars to be destroyed is not all that unbelievable,but in the current economic crisis for the tourism or hospitality or car rental business,that lends to suspicion regarding insurance claims.i worked in that business several years ago, and I have some knowledge of how it is operated by all the rental car companies...
David Craig 3
So why destroy your greatest assets? Without cars theirs no revenue right? The only cost to park 3500 cars is interest and curtailments, unless they outright own the vehicles. If they lease the vehicles then I could maybe see a reason to destroy them (3500 monthly payments...Och!) otherwise it makes no sense to intentionally destroy 3500 cars. Man thats a lot of newer cars, what a waste...on the plus side the metal will be easier to recycle being all the other combustible car pieces should of melted away to not much anything.
James Simms 0
Most were probably sedans whose assembly lines likely shut down to declining sales & once they outlasted their usefulness, would be sold off. These should be replaced by newer SUV’s once the assembly lines open back up, some top of the line options & a mix of low end/mid level models
Craigslist post: "Slight Fire Damage."
bbabis 1
Some more than slight but I'll bet that you'll see some of them driving around down there or moved out of state to get clean titles after slight repair.
I wonder if they saved 15% or more.
"Together we were able to keep our airport passengers & visitors safe" -> during covid-19 ?
Charles Adams 1
Yes - safe from fire and safe from smoke inhalation. There are more ways to die, or become injured, that COVID-19. What is your point?
Can you SPELL... "Insurance Arson Fraud?"
Robert Cowling -3
Properly shielded catalytic convertors aren't a danger on grass. The key part is 'properly'.

Shields tend to rust off older vehicles, and are rarely replaced, but still, this is suspicious... Someone smoking, someone mowing that sparks the fire, it's unlikely that a car parked in a grassy area is just going to spontaneously erupt in flames. If that was possible, there would be more home fires, and people would be urged to keep their cars out of their garages.

Common sense: Cars don't spontaneously start fires. Something else sparked this. Maybe the possibility of big insurance claims to offset losses because of the downturn in rentals? If each rental office is independently owned, the 'urge' to burn it down for money would be strong.

Sad story: the town I lived in during college had a 'rash' of grass fires. One got out of control, and torched a bunch of houses, and an apartment complex. That's when one fireman started acting weird. Then they realized that he was always first on the scene for these fires, and when they confronted him, he admitted that he was doing the fires to 'stay busy' because fires were down that year. Yeah, a special kind of stupid...
Michael Hawke 8
If you have worked in farm country you would know that it is very easy for a new car or truck to start a grass fire. Farmers are extremely careful around cut straw fields because of the risk of starting a grass fire.
VKSheridan 0
Agreed. On older cars that was quite common but with improved thermal shielding on today’s catalytic converters, the risk has been greatly reduced. One only has to look as far as all those vehicles that raced to the scene not lighting fires under themselves. Something as simple as a rat chewing through a wire harness could have started this.
Torsten Hoff 7
I would be surprised if any of the rental cars were more than a couple of years old, the fleets get renewed frequently, so any shielding on the catalytic converters should not have had time to rust away.

I don't buy the "something else sparked this" theory, including possibly a intentional act. What's more likely is that the lack of rental activity caused far more cars to be temporarily parked and areas of the lot to be utilized that hadn't been maintained and had grass grow tall enough to accidentally come into contact with the catalytic converter.

Occam's Razor.
Larry White 1
My 2018 Jeep Renegade has a stainless steel guard on it, I doubt it will rust because( I think anyway) it's part of emissions components, has to last life of the vehicle. That a/p is surrounded by grassland, flat with palmetto palms and scrub.
situated east of I-75 east of Ft.Myers, could be careless smoker.idk.
John Gerty 1
It might not rust, but there is metal fatigue from both heat and vibration. It hits especially across the welds, which have often changed the metal's characteristics.
Torsten Hoff 1
Welds are generally stronger than the substrate. When a weld fails, it is normally near the weld, but not the weld itself.
djames225 6
Sorry Robert, but even properly shielded cat's can start a fire, especially if parked in dry grass/straw areas. Some cats can still generate temps in excess of 1.200 degrees especially if 1 of the cars was just returned after a long high speed drive.
Robert Cowling -8
They were sitting in a field! They weren't running! Good grief but you people really love to ride your ideas into the ground. I worked on farms for several years. Grass fires don't start by themselves, but cars sitting in a field don't either. I'll bet there was some mowing going on, or it's by a road where someone tossed a cigarette out a window.

But believe what you want. The car rental vendor will get money as an insurance settlement. Cha-ching...
djames225 6
The cats stay hot AFTER being shut off, cars do not have to stay running. Do you think cat's go cold almost immediately. What ideas were being rode into the ground. Plenty of accelerants were also present so all it would take would be 1 hot cat Sure it could have also been a cigarette butt, but my retort was to your "Properly shielded catalytic convertors aren't a danger on grass. The key part is 'properly.'"
Torsten Hoff 3
Not only that, but the ECUs in cars are designed to heat catalytic converters up quickly to minimize emissions. Even if the cars were only driven a short distance and at normal speeds, the catalytic converters still would be hot enough to light combustible materials that come into contact with them.
Daniel Flaitz 2
The cars were driven there when dropped off. Still hot!!! But you go ahead. There always has to be " the smartest guy in the room, any room" Is that you?
wingbolt 2
I’m probably going with the cigarette theory.
bbabis 1
And that's all I got to say about that! Love the pic.
James Simms 2
My understanding from a local tv station story is it’s been very dry in the area w/out rain
SmokedChops 0
Most cats are right off the manifold, or are part of the manifold now, would be curious to see how many are actually underneath, downstream. Anymore, they want the cats closest to the manifold to retain the heat for light-off (the process of the catalyzing the unburned hydrocarbons). Still sucks, because thatfinancial loss will show up somewhere, either at the rental counter, or the general insurance pool that finances that particular coverage.
Dwight Albers 0
I don’t guess it occurred to anyone to move the cars not yet involved.....??????
bbabis 3
Now that would have been funny! Even if they had access to keys, people running around with buckets of keys honking horns and trying to figure out which car is honking with all the emergency sirens blaring would be straight out of the Keystone Cops.
djames225 2
Not to mention running into that fuel and tire fed smoke. Don't forget the bouncing off of hoods because you can't see anything. Keystone Cops 2020
James Simms 2
Not like there was a lot of time to go grab & sort out keys (or opening fobs) that were likely locked up somewhere. Similar situation when Pearl Harbor was attacked. All the anti-aircraft ammo On ships and on land were locked away w/out Officers around to unlock them. The ammo lockers either stayed locked or bludgeoned open by force.

I don’t think anyone was willing to take the responsibility of trying to find out what worked in such a short amt of time & then risk getting burned by flames. If anything, workers were probably happy the “big bad rental company” vehicles were going up in flames as they were likely disgruntled when their fellow co-workers (friends) had probably been laid off or furloughed.

Although not much in the scheme of things, auto assembly lines will replace them w/SUV’s when they start up as most were likely sedans whose assembly lines had been discontinued. They’ll be replaced w/more expensive to rent w/SUV’s although a few will be top of the line model SUV’s, most will be bottom line models.
AWAAlum 1
I'm no expert, that's for sure - but I don't suppose there's a lot of grass left to burn.
Convenient ?
Mike Lynn -1
Well Bill Babis, this is a BIG TIME insurance buyout. Can't imagine how a grass fire caused such havoc except for gasoline tanks exploding literally adding fuel to the fire.
Daniel Flaitz 2
Don't forget tires. They burn long and hot.
eric noack -5
deliberate yes..........these fires are usually deliberately lit .

[This poster has been suspended.]

canuck44 23
It is difficult to imagine why Trump Derangement Syndrome has anything to do with a fire three miles from me. Many of us can think of a lot of seditious politicians and bureaucrats who belong in Gitmo, but we don't feel the necessity to troll this forum to demonstrate psychotic behavior. Look around there are lots of websites who will welcome your whining.
Roger Anderson 13
What's more surprising is why FlightAware hasn't banned bruce as yet from the comments.
Dave Hahn 5
There is another routine poster who blames everything on Trump which makes it tough to have a good conversation on these aviation issues, Trump may be at fault for many things but good grief ,give it a rest.
djames225 4
Ask and thou shall receive
Ron Nash -4
What kind of fire brigade takes that long to get to a fire amongst parked cars, that it reaches a total of 3500 cars on fire? "By the time first responders got there, 100 cars were on fire".
Arson alarm bells are ringing here for me. Even with closely spaced cars, it takes quite some time for fire to travel from one car to the next.
I don't see any howling wind on the day, aiding the fire movement?
I don't see "long grass" in the photos, the grass is "short" by my estimations.
Funny how when you can't rent cars for the foreseeable future, they just all happen to catch fire?
"Hey Homer, make sure at least 20 cars are alight before you call the wrong number for the fire brigade!"
djames225 6
You don't think insurance companies, and the fire inspectors office, are not going to go over that area with a fine tooth comb? Sorry but I don't buy the arson theory at all.
It doesn't take long for fire to travel along dry underbrush, and cars have perfect accelerants at their disposal. Remember most new car fuel tanks are made of a plastic polymer that melts, gas drops on the ground and the chain continues.
BigTuna 4
Given that it was an undeveloped remote lot they probably had issues sustaining the water supply needed to battle the fire.
They were likely parked nose to tail ant tight side by side ... solid blocks of cars, pretty difficult to access to put fires out.
Mike Lynn 4
Exploding gas tanks.
patrick baker -7
either rent them out or incinerate them, for revenue steams look just like insurance coverage payments on many accounting statements.
They probably set the fire since no one is renting cars for the insurance?


Don't have an account? Register now (free) for customized features, flight alerts, and more!
Did you know that FlightAware flight tracking is supported by advertising?
You can help us keep FlightAware free by allowing ads from We work hard to keep our advertising relevant and unobtrusive to create a great experience. It's quick and easy to whitelist ads on FlightAware or please consider our premium accounts.