Rental Cars Used By Secret Service Destroyed In Fire At Airport

Jason Graziadei •

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A large car fire involving multiple rental vehicles recently used by Secret Service agents erupted early Monday morning at Nantucket Memorial Airport. There were no injuries, but five cars sustained significant damage and the blaze occurred just 40 feet from the airport’s jet fuel tanks.

The vehicles were among numerous cars that had been rented by Hertz to the Secret Service during President Biden's stay on the island for the Thanksgiving holiday, two sources told the Current. They had been returned to Hertz less than 24 hours before the fire broke out.

An investigation into the incident has determined that the blaze was not suspicious, according to Nantucket Fire Chief Michael Cranson. The connection to the Secret Service and President Biden, however, put a national spotlight on the story and the island, while fueling conspiracy theories about the fire.

While the official cause is undetermined, officials have focused on a white Ford Expedition as the initial source of the fire. That vehicle was under a safety recall by the manufacturer due to a faulty battery junction box that has caused fires elsewhere. While it had been scheduled for service under the recall, sources said, it had not been repaired.

The five vehicles had been rented to some of the dozens of Secret Service agents on the island providing security for President Biden and his family during their annual Thanksgiving visit, two sources confirmed to the Current.

The fact that the fire consumed the rental vehicles just hours after President Biden left the island has prompted widespread national media coverage of the story. Cranson said he had been inundated by calls from reporters on Tuesday.

The Secret Service did not immediately return a message from the Current seeking comment, however, Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told NBC News that Hertz is investigating the fire, and that the Secret Service is not involved. Guglielmi said he doesn't have any information on what might have started the fire.

The five rental vehicles that sustained significant damage were facing each other at the origin of the fire and had their front ends totaled by the blaze. The following five cars were towed away:

• Chevy Suburban

• Ford Explorer

• Infiniti QX80

• Ford Expedition

• Jeep Gladiator

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, Cranson praised the work of the airport firefighting team and his crews, along with the rental car companies, the Nantucket Police Department and the tow companies that responded as part of a joint effort.

Assistant airport manager Noah Karberg said there is concern anytime there is a fire in close proximity to the fuel tanks, but that he did not expect any changes with regard to the location of the rental car overflow lot next to the tanks in the future.

“The standards for the fuel farm are all compliant with the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association)," Karberg said. "It is a concern having any sort of fire near the fuel farm but there was no damage to the fence and no damage to the tanks. I don’t know the cause of the fire but this isn’t an everyday event. Last summer we finished the conversion of our fuel farm fire suppression system so it exists, it is there, it works, and it is a chlorine-free foam. Obviously we never want anything to catch on fire but absent from any further input from the fire department, we don’t have any changes planned.”

The airport issued the following statement roughly less than an hour after the fire was extinguished:

“At approximately 5:22 am Airport shift staff observed an active fire in the rental car overflow area through the Airport's Closed Circuit Television System. Staff activated the Alert system and responded to the fire in Airport-3, where they were met by responding units from Nantucket Fire Department and Nantucket Police Department. Combined fire resources responded and contained the fire. Several vehicles were damaged. The Airport is currently coordinating with rental car agencies and agency partners to ensure scene safety. There is no longer an active fire at this time: the Airport is open, and aeronautical operations are not affected.”

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