By on April 6, 2020

A weekend blaze cut short the lifespans of more than 3,500 vehicles packed tightly into a single massive overflow lot near Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Florida.

While the cause of the vehicular firestorm has not yet been determined, the resulting carnage is something to see. Despite dozens of water drops by local sheriff’s office helicopters, the overflow lot, ringed with acres of dry grass, proved the perfect econobox tinderbox.

Whether the late-Friday fire originated as a grass fire or turned into one is not known, but the towering blaze fueled by the gasoline, engine oil, tires, hoses, belts, and fabrics of thousands of vehicles backstopping the airport’s rental agencies soon spread to a nearby forest.

https://twitter.com/CCSOFLSheriff/status/1246287194307932162

“By the time we had units on the scene, we had 100 cars (on fire). We lost count after the hundreds,” Melinda Avni, Mitigation Specialist for Florida Forestry Service of Caloosahatchee, told CNN.

The fire burned into Saturday, ultimately consuming 15 acres of land, forest, and rental lot. Multiple fire departments, in addition to the forestry service and Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, played a role in bringing the situation under control.

After firefighters extinguished the last ember, the Lee County Port Authority announced the loss of 3,516 vehicles.

Rental cars face a harsh early life and quick depreciation, but the vehicles immolated in Fort Myers barely had a chance to start their inglorious careers. Photos from the scene show a distinctive lack of Nissan sedans, Dodge Chargers, and various other rental favorites, though it could just be the vantage point that’s to blame. Without a doubt, they’re in there.

When the coronavirus pandemic’s grip on the U.S. auto industry eases, automakers can expect healthy fleet orders from southwest Florida.

[Image: welcomia/shutterstock]

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48 Comments on “3,516 Lightly Optioned Cars Burn in Florida...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    Wildfires and arson both happen all the time- but the timing of this one is notable.

    Does anybody remember what sensational news* was cluttering up the news stream in the summer of 2001? Shark attacks. In a weird way, this one makes me think of the last shark attack of that season, sometime in September or October.

    * Not to denigrate the victims of fire nor sharks in any way. Just comparing the two as the reporting tends to be sensational.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      No matter how often shark attacks occur, the news always describes them as “rare”.

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        FSU statistics – An average of 10 people in Florida are killed by lightning strikes annually and 40 are seriously injured.

        Meanwhile, there were 16 shark attacks in Florida in 2018.

        You can stay out of the water but it is much harder staying out of the air.

        Each type of attack was of course ‘unprovoked’.

        • 0 avatar
          JMII

          I often fish for sharks and like most fish they spook/scare easily. However since they lack hands they tend to explore and test things using their mouth. If people had any idea how many sharks are in FL waters they would never go in. They are very plentiful but leave people alone 99% of the time. Based on years of fishing and snorkeling I worry more about jellyfish, fire coral, stingrays and barracudas then sharks.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “they tend to explore and test things using their mouth”

            That’s fairly well known among people who live near the coast. A lot of so-called shark attacks, when little jaws takes a bite but doesn’t rip a chunk of flesh out of your leg, are the shark going “chomp… eww… ptooey!” and swimming on to check out the next thing.

            “If people had any idea how many sharks are in FL waters they would never go in.”

            Which is also common knowledge among coastal dwellers and kind of a running joke when the beaches and shallow waters get crowded with wall-to-wall tourists. I happen to like the wall-to-wall tourists… they spend their money on things like hotel taxes which means that I don’t have to pay state income tax. And to circle back to the topic at hand, some of their money also goes to various rental car surcharges that are location/airport-specific and tourism-related.

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          Ancillary comment: Apparently the odds of winning a multi-state lottery are roughly equivalent to being struck by lightning *while* being eaten by a shark.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I remembered a TODAY Show item about it on the morning of the 10th.

    • 0 avatar
      whynotaztec

      Thank you! I mention that to people and they look at me like I’m crazy. I think the whole Gary Condit thing was around that time as well.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I LOL’d at the headline, though in defense of rental cars I will say that I’ve rented several Fusions in the past five years and they were all loaded to the gills.

    After the Fusions I ended up with an Enclave, and was shocked at both how incredibly chintzy everything inside it was and at how utterly, totally, completely, irredeemably awful it was to drive. Before that I’d never actually driven a crossover, and dear Lord was it way worse than I imagined it might be. It was like piloting a plate of jello from the top of a TV antenna. I can only hope that Buick failed uniquely, because only misery lies ahead if that’s how awful CUVs are in general.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Yeah, as much as risk units (company-owned) tend to be lower trim models since it’s rare you’ll get the cost of any options back in resale, the buybacks (leased for 4-12 months) tend to be really nicely equipped.

    • 0 avatar

      “I can only hope that Buick failed uniquely”

      What, nobody else is making CUVs? Chevrolet comes to mind.

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        I mean, I hope other peoples’ CUVs are better than Buick’s, rather than my fear, which is that they’re pretty much all that bad except for the ones Porsche and Alfa make, which are almost as good to drive as a 2006 Avalon. C/D keeps saying there are good CUVs but man… I dunno…

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      Oh, not at all. I’ve driven a Chevy Traverse. The Enclave is MUCH nicer.

      To be fair, your rental bar may be higher than you think. The Fusion, regardless of trim level, is criminally underrated. It’s beautiful, comfortable, practical, affordable, and handles like a base Bimmer. I’ve driven every trim level of Fusion from junior-Maserati to stripped fleet car, and every one of them is a pleasure to drive. Less so the Fusion Energi, mostly because it feels a lot slower than it actually is and is outclassed by newer PHEVs, but still. The average Fusion is better than it has any right to be — particularly given that its competitors have been refreshed multiple times now while it soldiers on unchanged.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Well, that is one way to stimulate the economy…..

  • avatar
    Verbal

    Whenever I reserve a rental car, I check the box for a full size sedan. And? The last three times they have given me a CUV or SUV. The Mazda CX3 was pretty good. The Jeep Compass was slow enough to remind me of rental cars thirty years ago – when you press down on the gas, the engine gets a lot louder but you don’t go noticeably faster. The Nissan Pathfinder was completely forgettable.

    The best rental car I have driven in the past couple of years was a Dodge Charger SRT with the 5.7l Hemi. Not sure how that snuck into the Avis fleet. Haz powah.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Whenever I check full-size I get stuck in a midsize.

      • 0 avatar
        Verbal

        I remember that switcheroo. Years ago I would reserve a full size sedan, expecting an Impala-sized car. Then they would give me a Malibu. When I protested, they pointed out that the Malibu qualifies as full-sized, based on the EPA interior volume index. Apparently the ‘Bu was above the mid/full cutoff by a fraction of a cubic foot.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Gotta get that Status @Hummer.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Do you mean an R/T rather than an SRT? Availability as a rental car would make sense from the standpoint that the 5.7 is–and it seems ludicrous to me even to type this about something putting out 370-hp–the second-from-the-bottom of the various engines available in the Charger.

      Anybody with experience or opinions on the 5.7? Engines with cylinder deactivation make me a little skittish.

      • 0 avatar
        Verbal

        Now that you mention it, it may have been an R/T optioned with the Hemi. The base R/T engine is the V6.

        • 0 avatar
          MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

          No the base R/T engine is the 5.7L Hemi V8. GT and SXT and “Rallye” versions are V6. Any current AWD is also V6. The least optioned SRT will be a 6.4L V8 of nearly 500 HP. I looked at one with 20k miles after a year, zero options and 5 wrecks on the history – I figured it had been a rental but renting out 485 HP to the general populace seems……. risky.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “Anybody with experience or opinions on the 5.7?”

        I owned a Charger 345 from 2014-2018, about 45k miles. Engine was very nice, arguably the nicest sedan engine you can get for under $40K. Good sound, linear power, and not terrible mileage for something with 370hp. Some people suffer a “HEMI tick” but mine never had an issue. The MDS does flatten out the exhaust note and gives some *slight* NVH shudder as it goes on/off, but didn’t give me any reliability trouble (granted I didn’t rack up tons of miles).

        Fun car but the overall build quality was pretty poor.

        However, if you’re interested in a Charger I’d say look at a 392, it isn’t that much of a price jump these days and it really moves you into a different performance class with very few drawbacks.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        I’ve seen Challenger Scat Packs (so, 6.4) at a few airports, but the Charger is probably just (I know, “just”) a 5.7 R/T.

      • 0 avatar
        MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

        QUOTE— “Anybody with experience or opinions on the 5.7? Engines with cylinder deactivation make me a little skittish”

        Two incidents of direct experience. 2006 300C Hemi still running like new (and cylinder cutoff working as new) at 195k miles, more reliable than I ever would have guessed. TOTALLY reliable in fact. Also a 2016 Charger R/T bought new, very well put together car and drives wonderfully (has every option). I had the mufflers removed but left the rearmost resonators which helps cut drone during times of cylinder cutoff. Would highly recommend anything with the Hemi.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Those are Toyotas, I think. That doesn’t look like a Nissan grille on the silver pickup in one of those photos, though the symbol in the middle of the grille looks suspiciously like a Mercedes tri-star emblem.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Just another case of strange, normally unrelated things that are affected by this virus. Normally rental cars in SW FL this time of year should be in the hands of spring breakers and other seasonal visitors. But due to the shutdown they got stock piled in a make shift lot of dry grass (the rainy season is still two months away). A small fire quickly became a big fire.

  • avatar

    love 2 park hot cars over dry grasses

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A couple of years ago I rented a Dodge Challenger RT with the Hemi from Hertz. I was somewhat bemused when the agent recommended it plus it was less money than a base or premium Mustang.

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    Several pics online show a Challenger, but white and a V6 so this saves me needing to say BURN IT WITH FIRE :)

  • avatar
    cprescott

    If those were Toyoduhs or Nissans, hopefully they all burned to the ground. Hideous things when they aren’t toasty. After the fire, they’ll improve in looks.

  • avatar
    Michael S6

    Cash for roasted clunkers.

  • avatar
    ImAbeFroman

    Funny how a rash of random fires tends to occur during periods of sudden widespread economic hardship….

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      My first thought was about the insurance payout for this. Which rental company owned these vehicles and what did their balance sheet look like beforehand? One would believe that a careful company would take care of the storage of the revenue-generating inventory…

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Most, if not all, of the major rental companies are self-insured. They’ll be taking a total loss on these unless they can luck out and figure out whose negligence caused this and pursue that company for damages.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I scanned through several news videos. I see a pretty wide variety of makes and models, like Mini Coopers and Dodge Challengers.

    An aftermath video from the next day also showed rows of undamaged cars, including a white Toyota 4Runner. The reporter also noted that over 4,000 other cars were undamaged, and had been transferred to other locations.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    The purpose of a lockdown is to prevent disease transmission from sick people to healthy ones. I don’t see how this is compromised by driving around with your windows up. Even if you need to buy gas, outdoors at a gas station is a hostile environment for a virus. Just don’t walk up to somebody and cough in his face.

    Here in Arizona, golf courses are still open with the warning to keep a safe distance from the other players. My wife and I go to the supermarket every ten days to restock. People are careful to stay at least six feet from each other as much as possible. A few have been wearing masks and this will increase now that their use is encouraged. (If medical workers need N95 masks, I’m not sure how much good a bandana will do.) Every two or three days, we see our horse at a nearby stable. It’s outdoor boarding so it’s easy to avoid the other horse owners if they show up at the same time.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    All those Altimas, Camrys, Fusions, and Malibus

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    “Photos from the scene show a distinctive lack of Nissan sedans, Dodge Chargers, and various other rental favorites, though it could just be the vantage point that’s to blame.”

    That or they were melted together in one big mass, like a sticky box of Jujubes left on the top of the dashboard in the hot sun.

  • avatar
    TS020

    Wow, that’s a lot of CARnage…

    I’ll see myself out

  • avatar
    6250Claimer

    Once I had a clothing store

    Business, it was bad

    Asked my Uncle Murray what to do, this is what he said

    Take a can of gasoline, pour it on the floor

    Take a match,

    Make a scratch,

    No more clothing store

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