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Fire at Hawley airport knocked down

Smoke and flames shoot out as the Hawley Fire Department uses a front-end loader to gain greater access to a blaze at the city's airport hanger today. (Mike Nowatzki/The Forum)

HAWLEY - Fire broke out twice and gutted a section of a hangar building at the municipal airport here Saturday.

No one was injured in the blaze, which was reported by motorists driving by on U.S. Highway 10 at 7:39 a.m.

Hawley Fire Chief Gary Schultz said a state fire marshal was on scene Saturday afternoon and has a "pretty good idea" of what caused the fire, but it was not released.

The marshal plans to return Monday for further investigation, Schultz said.

Foul play is not suspected, he said.

Hawley volunteer firefighters struggled to extinguish the blaze, which started on the south side of Building No. 4. It appeared they'd knocked out the fire after about two hours on scene, but the flames soon roared up again.

"There apparently was a flashover," Schultz said. "There's a false wall inside the hangar door. Apparently there was some heat building up behind that door. We're thinking that's what happened. We're not sure."

By 11:30 a.m., the fire was knocked down a second time and the building continued to smolder. Firefighters remained on scene to monitor it until almost 1 p.m.

Airport Manager Lisa Jetvig said the building contains seven hangars and houses three airplanes on the north side. She said on the south side, where the fire started, is a garage and office space.

Damage to the airplanes appeared to be limited to smoke or soot damage, Schultz said.

Elite Air, an airplane refurbishing company, leases two of the eight stalls in the hangar, said David Miller of Moorhead, who works for the business. He said a charred minivan pulled from the burning garage belongs to the company's owner, Dale Cox.

The building is heated by two electric furnaces, and Miller suspected one of them may have caused the fire.

He said he was probably the last one in the building prior to the fire. He was there Thursday and turned down the heat to the hangar area, but not to the office, he said.

Firefighters had to contend with the hangar's large bi-fold doors, which operate on electricity that was knocked out during the fire. A front-end loader was used to lift up a door on the west side, and a large trash bin propped up a door on the east side.

Schultz said the many walls and partitions inside the building made it difficult to reach the flames with water. Firefighters used the front-end loader to punch holes in the south side of the building, which consists of sheet metal over a wood frame.

The airport is located one mile west of Hawley at 21684 U.S. Highway 10. It is owned by the city of Hawley.