Fire Consumes Eight Cars in Wash. Airport Garage

May 1, 2013
Eight cars burned in Sea-Tac airport's parking garage after a BMW with suspected mechanical problems caught fire spewing thick black smoke toward the airport's lobby.

May 01--Fire investigators investigating an early Tuesday morning garage fire at Sea-Tac Airport that destroyed eight cars and damaged two more say the fire began with a BMW that arrived just before the fire.

Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper said the pattern of burn marks and soot in the garage indicate the fire originated with the BMW. Investigators believe the car may have had a mechanical defect that started the fire.

Those investigators were trying to locate the car's owner to see whether the vehicle had any known problems, Cooper said.

The Tuesday morning fire was the most serious ever to occur in the 13,000-vehicle garage.

"In most cases, the previous fires were confined to a single car, and that fire was controlled with a fire extinguisher," said Cooper.

Investigators theorize that the fire may have ignited the car's fuel system or fuel or oil that had dripped onto the floor and then spread to the other cars. Those cars were parked in the garage's north end in row B on the garage's sixth floor. The garage has eight floors.

Firefighters from both the Port of Seattle's Fire Department and SeaTac Fire Department fought the flames for about 45 minutes. At times, as smoke blew toward the airport's lobby, airport officials locked doors there to keep the smoke out.

Because the garage ceilings are low, fire trucks could not enter the garage. Firefighters used standpipes spaced throughout the garage to connect their hoses. A standpipe is like an internal fire hydrant. A fire truck parked in the airport's utility tunnel and hooked up to the standpipe system provides extra water pressure for the hoses.

The garage is not equipped with a water sprinkler system.

Cooper said initial damage estimates total about $250,000. That figure may be adjusted as fire officials survey other cars that may have been affected by smoke from the fire.

Most of the cars' owners were away from the area on trips. The Port of Seattle, the garage's owner, is trying to contact them using registration information associated with their license plates.

No injuries were reported.

Besides totaling eight cars, the fire damaged electrical systems near the fire's location, knocking out lighting in that small section of the garage.

By midafternoon, eight of the 10 cars had been towed away.

"We'll be getting some crews in there to pressure-wash the area where the fire occurred and to replace the electrical wiring damaged by the fires," said Cooper. Engineers inspected the garage's support columns and determined they suffered no structural damage.

The sixth floor was open to the public except for the rows where the blaze happened.

Investigators initially thought a Toyota Prius might have been the source of the fire, but they later pinpointed the BMW as the origination point. The Prius is a hybrid equipped with lithium ion batteries. In other vehicles, lithium ion batteries have burst into flames on some occasions.

Copyright 2013 - The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

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