Crews respond to fire near Lambert airport in St. Louis

Saturday, November 18, 2006
Firefighters sprayed water on the remains of a fire at an electrical facility near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport Friday in St. Louis. The fire briefly cut power to the main terminal before the backup generators took over. (TOM GANNAM ~ Associated Press)

The fire began in a power plant building, disrupting electronics in the main terminal.

ST. LOUIS -- An electrical facility caught fire Friday near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, disrupting power to part of the main terminal and forcing flight delays and cancellations.

The fire began around 11:30 a.m. in the electrical shop of a power plant building at the airport. It was brought under control shortly before 2 p.m., fire officials said. They were investigating the cause.

Power was restored to much of the terminal shortly after the fire broke out, and generators were in use, but disruptions kept American Airlines from processing passengers electronically. Long lines of thousands of passengers and luggage snaked throughout the lobby during the afternoon.

American said it began to have intermittent access to its reservations system around 3 p.m. It processed passengers manually, but did cancel nine round-trip flights, said American spokesman Tim Smith. A Lambert official said another six regional flights were also canceled.

The airport's east terminal was not affected.

St. Louis Fire Capt. Derrick Phillips said one firefighter sustained a sprained ankle, the only reported injury.

The Fire Department said the fire started under the roofline of the electrical shop building. About 30 people were evacuated safely before firefighters arrived and the airport remained open.

"They did slow air traffic down, but they're still flying in and out," Phillips said.

Passengers waiting at the airport expressed frustration because they weren't certain what was going on following the fire. American employees did used bullhorns to direct travelers, but many remained confused and wanted more information.

Randy Caler, 37, of Tulsa, Okla., was trying to make it home after attending meetings for Anheuser-Busch. He said he had been waiting since 11:30 a.m. and did not know when he would be able to get his flight.

Caler said the fire, which broke out about 200 yards from the main terminal, made for some scary moments in the airport.

"There was no communication," he said. "No one knew what was going on."

As time passed, Caler said, passengers became more irritable.

"The first hour or two wasn't too bad," he said, "but it's getting worse."

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