Nine people were forced out of their homes in the 500 block of Nimitz Boulevard, just off Homestead Road, according to Mark Spears, a fire inspector with the Lehigh Acres Fire Department. A fire call was made on Oct. 2 shortly before noon and some 24 firefighters were sent to the scene.
He also reported to the scene and said a 6-year-old boy who lived in the left side of the duplex told him that he had opened the garage door after hearing "popping sounds" and saw the family's vehicle on fire with the garage completely filled with thick smoke.
"The cause of the fire was under investigation," Spears said, "but it may have started in the vehicle." He has seen fires start in vehicles before soon after they had been driven.
The 2001 Ford Expedition was destroyed. The family had driven the vehicle about 45 minutes earlier, he said.
In addition to firefighters, many of whom are emergency personnel, an ambulance was on the scene but Spears said nobody was injured and nobody was taken to the hospital.
The fire spread so fast that by the time firefighters were on the scene, flames had gone into the roof and to the left side of the duplex where four members of a family lived. On the right side, five people were living inside and that unit received heavy smoke damage and it was inhabitable, Spears said.
He said there were gusty winds of 22 to 23 miles per hour and they fanned the flames and with several doors to the garage open as well as a back bedroom window, the wind became like a wind tunnel rushing the flames throughout the garage and left side duplex.
"It was like a vacuum cleaner with the winds sucking that fire throughout the garage and house," Spears said.
A boy, his mother and another child to escaped the fire through a bedroom window.
"It was really a wild fire, one like you don't always see, especially with the winds fanning the blaze like that one did," Spears said. He also said the unit was a rental.
The Lee County Chapter of the American Red Cross arrived on the scene some time later with emergency help. Spears said the two families were taken to a motel where they were to stay for at least a few days.
"The mother and her two children have family in Lehigh and this week they were to stay with them. All the things they had in the unit were destroyed," Spears said.
He said it took about half an hour to put the blaze out, but by that time, there was nothing but a shell left.
While there was a firewall between the two units, Spears said in addition to smoke damage on the right side unit, there was some fire damage.
"They may be able to clean a lot of it up, but they couldn't continue to stay there after that fire," Spears said.