Several vehicles were totally engulfed in flames late Thursday night at the Hilton Garden Inn parking lot, and arson is suspected.

Assistant Chief with the Missoula Fire Department, Chad Nicholson, said the initial call came in just after midnight on Friday.

"On the way to the scene, our crews could see a dark column of smoke and a glow over there, so they knew they had a significant fire," Nicholson said. "A total of seven vehicles were involved, with a couple of them fully involved in the parking lot, but luckily they were far enough away that the fire didn't extend to any buildings."

Nicholson said firefighters faced a difficult situation with the burning vehicles.

"It was a challenge to get the fires put out, they got the initial knockdown fairly quickly, but there were a lot of flammable liquids on the ground from ruptured fuel tanks, and some tires that exploded made things kind of exciting," he said. "It was a stubborn fire to get completely out, due to all the flammable materials."

Nicholson said fire investigators are definitely looking at the incident as being arson caused.

"We did have some witnesses on scene that did see some people near the vehicles, and also driving away at a high rate of speed shortly after the fire started," Nicholson continued.

Nicholson said typically in such an incident, the vehicle owners are responsible for having them removed from the scene, and their insurance companies will usually handle the job.

"Our fire inspectors have made contact with all the owners of the vehicles," he said. "We think the fire started in a vehicle that belonged to some people from Billings who were in town for I think it was a girls softball tournament."

Nicholson said there were no injuries reported, either from witnesses or from responding fire department personnel. The incident remains under investigation.

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