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Fire destroys, damages multiple aircraft

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

Fire broke out in a six-unit hangar at New River Valley Airport Monday, destroying two airplanes and leaving several others damaged — some possibly beyond repair.

Airport manager Keith Holt said a total of seven aircraft were stored in the hangar. Two were in the unit where the fire originated. Airport officials were busy trying to make contact with aircraft owners Monday afternoon to notify them of the fire and try to put a dollar figure on the damage.

Lt. Rusty Mitchell with Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the blaze. As firefighters were still working to control the fire, he said early information suggests the fire was accidental in nature. It is believed an aircraft battery that was being charged ignited the fire.

A man at the scene, identified by others as the owner of the aircraft that caught fire, declined to comment to The Southwest Times. He was subjected to smoke inhalation while trying to put out the fire, but declined treatment, the sheriff’s office lieutenant said.

“The best we can determine right now, the gentleman was charging the battery and a few minutes later noticed a fire. He tried to put it out to no avail,” Mitchell explained.

The investigation is still ongoing.

According to Mitchell, four aircraft, a boat and a personal watercraft stored in the hangar appear to be damaged beyond repair. The three other aircraft are “questionable.” They’ll have to be evaluated for airworthiness before a decision is made.

Pulaski County Emergency Services Director Josh Tolbert said the biggest challenge firefighters encountered was re-ignition of the flames due to vapors from the aviation fuel.

A heavy, black plume of smoke could be seen billowing into the sky from miles away before firefighters arrived on the scene of the five-alarm fire. One firefighter said he was at Dublin Post Office and was able to see the smoke from there.

Although firefighters were able to quickly beat down the flames with foam, as soon as application stopped, the fire erupted again.

“It’s a flammable liquid fire, so it takes a special kind of foam to put it out. We had the foam, but ran out, so Radford City was called to bring some,” Tolbert said. He explained that the foam creates a blanket that covers vapors so they don’t keep re-igniting.

Among aircraft in the hangar was a Piper Cruiser, Holt said. According to online sources, Piper Aircraft manufactured the plane 1946-48.

Responding to the blaze was Dublin, Newbern, Pulaski, Fairlawn and Radford City fire departments, as well as REMSI, the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, Dublin Police Department and Virginia State Police.

Fire units were on the scene until after 3 p.m.

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