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Fort Myers Beach fire: The truck did it

Feb. 8, 2013
Crews fight garbage truck fire
Crews fight garbage truck fire: Fort Myers Fire Capt. Ron Martin said it appears the fire started with the garbage truck and then spread to the RV. Video by Dennis Culver/
Firefighters on the scene of fire at the Red Coconut Resort on Fort Myers Beach involving a garbage truck and and at least one RV. Both vehicles were destroyed. No injuries were reported. / Andrew West/


Investigators have determined a garbage truck malfunction caused the Thursday fire at Red Coconut RV Park on Fort Myers Beach.

The truck caught fire while collecting trash from the park around 8 a.m. The fire then destroyed a nearby RV. No one was injured, but the family staying in the RV lost all possessions.

Investigators found a hydraulic line and a fuel line in the garbage truck were compromised, said Dale Reisen, chairman of the Lee County Fire-Arson Task Force and battalion chief of Estero Fire Rescue.

The hydraulics in a garbage truck are put under pressure each time it picks up a Dumpster to unload the garbage. If there is a weak point in the line, the pressure could cause it to break.

“What it looks like is one of those lines broke free and started to spill out the hydraulic liquid,” Reisen said, “and hydraulic liquid is a combustible fluid.”

The liquid sprayed onto the motor, which was hot from running most of the morning. Reisen said that explanation is consistent with what witnesses saw – the fire started in the cab and back of the trash unit, then worked its way up and over the truck.

The other option is a fuel line in the truck ruptured, spilling compressed natural gas (a cleaner alternative to diesel fuel) over the motor. Compressed natural gas also is flammable, Reisen said.

It is up to a private insurance investigator to determine which line malfunctioned and what caused the malfunction, Reisen said.

A safety feature on the garbage truck worked correctly during the fire, which may have prevented further damage. There were four cylinders of compressed natural gas stored on top of the truck. As the fire approached the cylinders, a wax seal on the tanks melted and released the gas to relieve the pressure inside and prevent an explosion. The gas then rose into the air, harmlessly away from the fire, Reisen said.

Witnesses reported hearing explosions during the fire, but Reisen said those were caused by propane tanks in the nearby RV.

Advanced Disposal Services, which owns the garbage truck involved in Thursday’s fire, said the company offered hotel accommodations to the family whose RV and camper were burned but they declined, said Mary Middelton O’Brien, chief marketing officer, in an email.

In addition, she wrote, the company provided a rental car and coordinated to have $500 given them for food and incidentals.

Sharon Cuyler, who is spending the winter in the Red Coconut RV Park, said the community has rallied around the Boutin family after its RV was destroyed.

The family is staying in a neighbor’s RV, and has received donations of money, food and clothing.

“They’re being looked after, and they’re comfortable,” Cuyler said. “I think they’re handling it pretty good considering what they experienced.”

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