Inferno Engulfs Istanbul Airport - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

5/24/2006 - Turkey

Inferno Engulfs Istanbul Airport

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- A massive fire that engulfed part of Istanbul's international airport left three people injured but did not cause major air traffic delays, Turkish officials say.

A Transport Ministry official said Wednesday's blaze, which broke out in the cargo section of Ataturk Airport, was under control and that flights were continuing.

Turkey's Deputy Gov. Fikret Kasapoglu private NTV television that three people suffered smoke inhalation but there were no other casualties.

He said the fire was believed to have been caused by a short circuit of electrical systems in a cargo area of the airport, and may have caused secondary explosions causing the fire to quickly spread.

NTV reported that the fire began in a section where fuel depots were located, according to The Associated Press. Electrical work was being carried out at the time, one witness said.

Thousands of people were forced to flee from the blaze as thick plumes of smoke and giant orange flames rose about 30 meters (100 feet) into the air.

"People panicked when they saw the huge smoke. It was a close shave because it was so near to the international passenger terminal," Mustafa Alpa, a tour guide at the airport, told Reuters.

Kaya Heyse, a producer for CNN's sister network CNN Turk, said the smoke could be seen from all over Istanbul.

The blaze broke out at 3:30 p.m. (1230 GMT) in the cargo area of Terminal A, which is about 1,000 meters (yards) from the main passenger terminal, a witness told NTV.

Hundreds of people gathered along the perimeter of the airport to watch the scene.

Heyse said the fire was contained in the cargo section of the airport, although it briefly threatened a hotel near the airport.

Firefighters tackled the blaze on the ground as planes doused water from the air.

Aided by winds blowing in the opposite direction, hundreds of firefighters worked to keep the flames away from a building near the cargo area that contained fuel tanks.

An airport worker said computer systems were shut down, but flights were continuing, with workers using manual systems to check people in and out. Priority was being given to landing planes and delays were expected for departures, she said.

The general director of state airport authority, Mahmut Tekin, told Reuters the fire had been brought under control and that "there is no problem with air traffic but some flights are delayed."

More than 10 million people live in Istanbul and the airport is the country's largest.

CNN Turk Producer Kaya Heyse and journalist Gokhan Guvenc contributed to this report.

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