Thousands of Used Cars Are 'Melting' in Ongoing Cargo Ship Fire in Florida

That's not great for resale value.

burning car carrier ship lead
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department

At around 4:00 pm on Thursday, June 4th, a fire broke out on the Höegh Xiamen, an automotive cargo ship that had just finished taking on thousands of used cars at the Port of Jacksonville in Florida. It started on the seventh deck of the ship but quickly spread throughout its entire structure and caused an explosion that tragically injured eight firefighters. A week later, the fire—although controlled and contained—is still burning, and as a result of the intense heat the U.S. Coast Guard says the cars inside are melting, WJXT News reports.

As it raged through the weekend, temperatures on the outside of the hull got up to around 350 degrees, and that's while firefighting ships were constantly spraying 25,000 gallons of water on it every minute. On the inside, temperatures well exceeded 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to authorities. That wouldn't melt a car's steel unibody structure, but would be enough to liquify any aluminum parts or body panels. Don't forget about how much plastic is on cars, too—even in areas of the ship that haven't burned, the oven-like heat has been baking them for a week straight now.

It's not worth the risk to fight the fire inside the Höegh Xiamen, so fire crews are letting the inferno burn out on its own. In order to prevent the hull from deforming and the ship from sinking while it does, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department is using drones equipped with thermal cameras to find the hottest spots and direct the intense jets of water onto them. They say this technique has been very effective in controlling the hull's temperature.

Over 150 firefighters have been involved in the effort to control the blaze on the ship, with eight of them being injured as the result of an explosion that took place last Thursday. Four of the firefighters reportedly suffered severe burns, but thankfully all eight been released from the hospital to recover at home as of Wednesday. None of the vessel's crew were injured in the incident.

The Höegh Xiamen itself was built in China in 2010 and is owned and operated by Höegh Autoliners, headquartered in Norway. The company operates several car and truck carries on a dozen trade routes worldwide. In response to the ongoing fire, a representative from Höegh Autoliners said, "We are continuing to work closely with all local authorities and response organizations to protect the local environment.”

The 2,000 cars on board are not new vehicles being transported overseas—they are all used. That's a little bit of consolation for the struggling auto industry, as the last thing it needs is another disaster on the high seas. 

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