The fire began just after 5am on 29 November in a rental car overflow car park at Nantucket airport.
By the time emergency responders arrived, the blaze had engulfed five SUVs and come within 40 feet of airport fuel tanks.
The Nantucket Current was first to report that the five Hertz-owned late model SUVs had been returned to the airport by Secret Service members less than 24 hours earlier.
The security detail had been protecting President Joe Biden during his annual Thanksgiving weekend holiday.
News of the fire spread fast — fuelling conspiracy theories about might have been the cause.
Nantucket Fire Department chief Michael Cranson, who was inundated with media inquiries, told the Current that the fire was not suspicious.
Investigators are focusing on a Ford Expedition vehicle that had been subject to a safety recall.
Hertz, who rented the vehicles to the Secret Service, told The Independent in a statement they were assisting authorities with the investigation.
No one wasinjured in the fire.
Bidens at Nantucket
The Bidens have a four-decade tradition of spending Thanksgiving on the small Massachusetts resort island just off Cape Cod.
President Biden had travelled to Nantucket on Air Force One with wife Jill, daughter Ashley and son Hunter, along with Hunter’s wife Melissa and their 2-year-old son Beau for their annual retreat.
They stayed at a sprawling waterfront compound owned by venture capitalist David Rubenstein, as Mr Biden mulled a run for reelection in 2024.
After Thanksgiving Day lunch with the family, Mr Biden delivered pies to Nantucket firefighters.
“I want to say thanks to the firefighters and police officers, first responders,” he said during a call to the hosts of NBC’s broadcast of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, the Associated Press reported. “They never take a break.”
On Saturday, he strolled around Nantucket’s Main Street in the rain and did some shopping at independently-owned stores for “Small Business Saturday”, according to a report in the Associated Press.
The next day, he gave photographers a thumbs up as he departed from Nantucket airport on Air Force One.
The Secret Service returned five vehicles used as part of their security protection on the island on Sunday night, spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told The Independent in a statement.
The vehicles included a Ford Explorer, a Chevy Suburban, an Infiniti QX80, a Ford Expedition, and a Jeep Gladiator.
At 5.22am on Monday, staff at Nantucket Memorial Airport spotted a fire in the car rental overflow car park.
In a statement, the airport said staff activated the alert system and the runways were briefly closed.
Officers from the Nantucket fire and police departments were on the site within minutes.
The Current reported that the fire came within 12 feet of fuel tanks at the airport. Footage obtained by the news site showed firefighters dampening down the smouldering remains of the burned-out vehicles.
Investigators quickly focused on a Ford Expedition SUV as being the origin of the blaze, the Current reported.
The paper pointed out that the Expedition was under a safety recall by the carmaker due to a faulty battery junction box.
A March 2022 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that six out of eight fires reported in Ford Expeditions had occurred when the vehicles were parked and the engines turned off.
All eight vehicles that reported fires were rental vehicles.
In May, Ford announced it was recalling more than 66,000 Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs built between July 2020 and August 2021. By that stage, 16 engine fires had been reported, including on 14 rental vehicles.
Ford’s website said it had traced the cause of the fires to a “circuit board supplier that changed manufacturing locations during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
It recommended owners park their Ford Expeditions outside and away from structures, and contact their dealer to arrange a service
A Hertz spokeswoman told The Independent that they were working with local authorities in their investigation.
Mr Guglielmi, the Secret Service spokesman, confirmed they had no issued with the vehicles.
“The Ford SUV that caught fire was a Secret Service support vehicle and not used to transport any protectees.”
The conspiracy theories
As soon as news that the Secret Service had just returned the cars at the centre of the mysterious blaze, theories began spreading on social media.
“How rarely does a car catch fire?” wrote one Twitter user.
“What are the odds that five of them, different makes and models, all rented by the Secret Service, would catch fire at the same time? Once again there’s a story here that isn’t being told.”
Others proffered fact-free suggestions that it could have been a terrorist incident.
According to one rightwing media site, the most popular their doing the rounds was that the explosions were ordered by the Secret Service to prevent sensitive data from being recovered from the vehicle’s onboard computer.
Following this “logic”, a Secret Service member had connected their phones to the vehicle by Bluetooth or cable and left sensitive data on the vehicle’s systems.
Others felt the astonishing story of the Secret Service’s exploding rental cars had not recieved enough attention.
“I feel like the fact that 5 of President Biden’s Secret Service rental cars suddenly burst into flames in the Nantucket Airport parking lot less than 24 hours after they were returned should maybe be a slightly bigger story,” the popular Twitter account @JofromJerz tweeted, quickly garnering 10,000 retweets.