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Local News

A vow to rebuild at Johnson City airport: Weekend fire destroys hangar, airplane

August 29th, 2011 11:10 pm by Madison Mathews

While the cause of a weekend fire at the Johnson City Municipal Airport that destroyed a small airplane hangar and its contents remains under investigation, plans are already under way to rebuild as soon as the investigation is concluded.
“We’ll take a front-end loader and get this stuff out of here and then clean that slab off and try to build another one back,” co-owner Preston Eldred said Monday as he surveyed the charred remains of the hangar that was destroyed early Saturday morning.
Although the smell of smoke lingered in the air, the day-to-day routine of people flying in and out of the site hasn’t been affected by the fire, Eldred said.
“It’s away from the runway. Planes have been taking off and landing already today. It’s just here to clean up, eventually,” he said.
According to a news release, the Johnson City Fire Department responded to a structure fire at the airport around 4:30 a.m. Saturday with three fire engines, a ladder unit, a command vehicle and 11 firefighters.
Eldred said several people who live around the airport called 911 after hearing explosions, which he said were probably caused by the fuel tanks of the Piper Malibu plane, a car, mower and two jet skis that were housed in the hangar.
Eldred said he arrived at the airport just before 5 a.m.
“By the time we got here, they had it suppressed, but it was already gone,” he said.
The smaller hangars on the property are wood frame buildings that basically act as storage for tenants.
“They’re not built with high-tech insulation and everything. Basically, it’s a tin building with wooden frame, so it’s not a really expensive building to build,” he said.
The only problem the firefighters ran into while battling the hangar fire was the possibility of a “hot-spot” that began burning on the hangar next to the one that was engulfed in flames. Firefighters had to break a lock on the door and were able to put it out with a fire extinguisher.
After it was extinguished, Eldred said he moved the two planes out of that hangar to keep them from being harmed.
When he saw the number of firefighters battling the blaze, Eldred said he wasn’t really worried about the fire spreading anymore than it already had.
“The Johnson City Fire Department responded with great expediency and did their job admirably. They were right on top of it,” he said.
Johnson City Fire Marshal Lori Ratliff said the hangar was fully involved when firefighters arrived at the airport.
Ratliff estimated the airplane’s value at around $300,000.
The cause of the fire is undetermined at this time and Ratliff is continuing to investigate it. She said she would return to the scene today for further inspection.

Press Staff Writer Becky Campbell contributed to this report.

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