Initially, it was thought that a portable burner caused the flames on the day of the accident. The firefighters did not confirm this hypothesis, but it wasn’t ruled out either. Another report estimated $1 million in property damage.
Fire investigators from the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department (M.D.F.R.) could not determine what caused the fire at Tropicana Flea Market on July 7, 2022. However, authorities did not rule out the possibility that it was caused by improper use of a portable burner stove at a food stand.
There are forty-four merchants, mostly Latino immigrants, who lost their merchandise in the fire at the Tropicana Flea Market at Northwest 37th Street and 30th Avenue in Miami-Dade.
No one was killed by the fire, which spread broadly into a warehouse that housed dozens of small businesses barely separated by plastic curtains and highly flammable material.
The fire caused one person to suffer a minor injury. More people were not affected because the market is open to the public only on weekends. The event occurred on a Thursday.
On the afternoon of that Thursday, July 7, firefighters extinguished the fire using multiple suppression units, for which it was necessary to deploy a contingent of officers to the site.
The fire destroyed thousands of products and goods, including electronics, clothing, tools, jewelry, and food. A pet store was nearby, so dozens of birds died from suffocation and burns.
Initially, it was reported that a market trader’s cooking stove caused the flames that caused the fire that day. However, firefighters could not confirm or exclude that hypothesis, although they did not rule it out either.
According to the first report that emerged that day, the flames in a market trader’s stall were caused by a cooking stove or a portable burner. Firefighters, however, could not confirm or exclude that hypothesis.
“Due to the extensive fire damage, was unable to determine the point of origin. The first fuel was not determined. The ignition source was not identified. Could not rule out the possibility that this fire was the result of the portable burner being left on and catching the surrounding material on fire,” the report reveals.
“No fire cause hypothesis was reached to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty. This fire will be classified as ‘undetermine’,” wrote M.D.F.R. Lt. Gerard Forrester, who conducted the investigation.
The conclusion of undetermined fire “is based on the fire patterns observed, fire dynamics, combustibles in the area of the fire origin, competent ignition sources in the area of origin, and the witness statements obtained,” Forrester wrote.
An Itempnews Project public records request was submitted to the M.D.F.R. authorities to obtain the report. The documents show the investigation was completed on Aug. 30, within the time frames required by law, but was available for review in November.
Two reports were prepared by the firefighters, one on the causes of the incident and one on the material losses. There are dozens of photographs of the scene of the accident in the first document, which has five pages. There are about sixty pages in the second report.
The investigation report was obtained through public records request submitted by the Itempnews Project to M.D.F.R. authorities. Despite being completed within the timeframes required by law, the investigation was available for review in November, according to the documents.
In addition to a report on the cause of the incident, firefighters prepared a report on the property damage.
Firefighters cited Angel Tosca, a security officer at the market, who said he closed the doors around 4 p.m. when he heard something explode. The market operates only on weekends.
“(Tosca) looked into booth R-1 and saw smoke. He then went shut the breakers off, came back to the R-1 booth, looked in, and saw flames. Mr. Tosca stated that the proprietor from R-1 booth, Raúl Chunco, was notified by phone about the fire, came back to the booth after he left when the property was closing, and attempted to extinguish the fire.” Investigators found that the interior of R-1 had extensive fire damage to the entire booth with the heaviest damage to the south wall.
Mr. Chunco told investigators “that he had not been cooking, smoking, or burning candles inside his unit. He said he could not think of any electrical problems with his equipment and had not received any threats.” The vender told firefighters he had no idea how the fire started.
According to Lourdes Fernandez, the office manager for the property, “Mr. Chunco sells food, but he is not allowed to cook at his booth.”
In an interview with Itempnews in November, Fernandez said the market remained closed until the city approved a partial reopening. Neither electricity nor water is available at the site.
According to another report, investigative firefighters estimated property damage at US$1 million and losses to vendors’ products and merchandise at US$300,000.
To comply with the reporting system, during an incident, everything that is affected by a fire, such as the flea market, the warehouse, or any materials that caught fire outside, must be reported separately.
“The estimated loss figures are only included in those reports. However, they do not represent official figures of losses sustained during the fire, which the homeowner’s insurance would provide,” explained Andrea Rudchenco, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue spokesperson.
As soon as additional or different facts, data or information emerges or is discovered after the report is issued, M.D.F.R. could amend the fire investigation report.
Records obtained by the Itempnews Project indicate that the Tropicana Flea Market was in good standing with the county Fire Department.
The reports covered 2018 until June 6, 2022, a month before the fire.
Due to the fire, flea market merchants have faced difficulty locating other venues to sell their products, adding obstacles to receiving private or federal financial assistance. Because the market has remained closed, products saved from the fire have been trapped inside.
The city sent a warning in October, informing them they could not continue to sell on the street in front of the flea market. Fines would be imposed if they refused to comply.
Contact the story’s author if you were affected by the Tropicana Flea Market fire and would like to share your experience. He can be reached at Frlopezb@itempnews.org