Fast-moving grass fire burns 34 vehicles at Niagara Lavender Festival

The fire began in the parking lot of the Niagara Lavender Festival and quickly swept through several vehicles.

Fire chief says no one was injured, but damage is estimated at $1.2M

A grass fire burned up several vehicles parked at the Niagara Lavender Festival Sunday. (Niagara-on-the-Lake Fire & Emergency Services)

A large, fast-moving grass fire sparked in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Sunday scorched dozens of vehicles, causing more than $1 million in damage.

The fire began in a hayfield being used as a parking lot for the Niagara Lavender Festival and quickly swept through 34 vehicles, according to Niagara-on-the-Lake fire Chief Rob Grimwood.

"It was one of the fastest-moving fires I've seen in my career," he said, adding he was on scene within five minutes and by that time at least five cars had already been consumed by flames.

Grimwood said 19 vehicles were totally destroyed and another 15 suffered fire damage of some kind. He estimated the total damage based on the make and model of the vehicles somewhere between $1.2 million and $1.5 million.

Officials don't know what started the fire, but given how dry the field was, Grimwood said it could be something as simple as a discarded cigarette or a car's exhaust coming into contact with the hay.

There were no civilian injuries, but some firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation by paramedics at the scene.

Within two or three minutes … it swarmed and took over like 20 vehicles at once.-Denise van Es

Denise van Es said she was at the festival and noticed a small wisp of smoke floating over the parking lot. But it didn't stay small for long.

A billowing cloud of thick, black smoke soon filled the air, which several people on social media said could be seen from kilometres away.

"As we looked over, we saw an entire car engulfed in flames," said van Es. "From there, it just escalated. Within two or three minutes … it swarmed and took over like 20 vehicles at once."

Denise van Es took a video of the fire, which she said spread incredibly quickly. (Denise van Es)

Watching the fire jump from car to car made her feel sick to her stomach, she said.

People were running everywhere as the fire grew, according to van Es. Her family was one of the first to get out of the parking lot, but she said if they didn't get to their car when they did, it would have likely been burned up within minutes, too.

'Everything was a challenge'

Battling the fire was made more difficult by the fact fire crews only had access to a single, low-pressure hydrant that was across a road and about 600 metres away, said Grimwood.

"Everything was a challenge: water supply, the heat and humidity — firefighters took a beating because of that — the extent of the fire, and how fast it spread. It was certainly a huge challenge."

The chief said at least 40 firefighters responded to the call; he praised his volunteer team for their work keeping the blaze under control.

"They did a phenomenal job," he said. "They saved in excess of 50 other cars that could have been destroyed."