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

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

The fire began in a hay field 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.

Everything is under control on Niagara Stone Road. <a href=”https://twitter.com/Town_of_NOTL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Town_of_NOTL</a> volunteer firefighters did an amazing job containing this fast spreading fire. <a href=”https://t.co/8NMABaIbnx”>pic.twitter.com/8NMABaIbnx</a>

&mdash;@NOTLfiredept

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 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 added.

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 hadn’t gotten to their car when they did, it would have been burned up within minutes, too.

‘Everything was a challenge’

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

Fire in the parking lot at the <a href=”https://twitter.com/neoblavender?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@neoblavender</a> festival parking lot, in a hay field. Several vehicles engulfed, explosions heard. My car is upwind, safe so far. <a href=”https://t.co/1sutj0KqOY”>pic.twitter.com/1sutj0KqOY</a>

&mdash;@AndrewSpearin

“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 and 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.”

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