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Downtown blaze in parking garage destroys at least five cars

Firefighters respond to the car fire in a parking garage between Fourth and Third streets on First Avenue S in St. Petersburg.
Firefighters respond to the car fire in a parking garage between Fourth and Third streets on First Avenue S in St. Petersburg.
Published Oct. 4, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Late night revelers saw thick smoke billow from a downtown parking garage early Saturday morning as a car fire spread quickly, destroying at least four other vehicles.

The blaze at the third-story parking garage on First Avenue S didn't injure anyone, according to St. Petersburg police Sgt. Matthew Furse. He said an indeterminate mechanical problem with the car, a 2001 BMW, started the fire.

In addition to the BMW and four other vehicles destroyed, five to seven other vehicles were damaged. Dozens of police and firefighters arrived to the scene, remaining for more than 90 minutes after the fire started about 12:15 a.m.

Miranda Moye, 21, of New Port Richey said she was the driver of the BMW involved. She had just pulled up to the second deck ramp of the garage when she and a passenger, Collin Todsen, saw smoke coming from the BMW's dashboard.

Todsen said he jumped out and popped the hood. When he didn't see any smoke, Todsen opened the trunk to disable the car battery. That's when he and Moye saw flames shoot out from where the air bags were.

By the time Todsen grabbed a nearby fire extinguisher, Moye was out of the car.

"The car had already blown up," said Todsen, 26, of Treasure Island. "So I ran and grabbed my (surf) boards and gear and passport out of the car and we ran for the hills."

Across the street from the garage, Shane Marley, general manager of World of Beer, was clearing tables. He said he heard a couple of loud pops — tires exploding — and saw smoke pouring out of the garage.

"There were a few different bangs," Marley said. "A couple of customers had their cars parked there, and they were torched."

Vaughn Crozier, 23, of St. Petersburg was at the Avenue with friends when he saw smoke come out of the garage. His friend, Amelia Watts, 23, said she called 911 around 12:20 a.m.

"It grew really fast," Watts said.

By 1 a.m., patrons from nearby bars lined the street, recording the scene with smartphones.

Some waited anxiously to find out more. Paige Hackney, 27, of South Tampa had parked her Jeep Cherokee on the second floor before heading to World of Beer. She said she didn't know what shape her vehicle was in.

"I just saw dark clouds come out," Hackney said. "It was like a domino effect."

Barbara Boblitz, 55, of Vero Beach had also parked her car, a new Hyundai Santa Fe, on the garage's charred second floor.

"I just wanna get my car," Boblitz said. "I thought it was a bomb at first."