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Monday, August 24, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Stored Hay Fueled Fire That Destroyed Wwii Blimp Hangar

AP

TILLAMOOK, Ore. - Tons of hay inside a blimp hangar fueled a massive fire that destroyed the historic structure, authorities said yesterday.

Hangar A, built during World War II and listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as one of the two largest free-span wooden structures in the world, burned to the ground by yesterday morning.

About 70 firefighters and 15 fire engines responded to a report of fire at 10:30 p.m. Saturday and attempted to enter the giant blimp hangar, said firefighter Pat Kelly of the Tillamook Fire Department. The hangar stored 7,600 tons of highly combustible straw.

"We tried to charge in and put the fire out, and we found that was not the proper thing to do," Kelly said.

After crews sprayed the flames for about half an hour, the hangar's 9-acre roof collapsed, Kelly said. Its fall scattered firefighters, forcing them to leave hoses and equipment behind to burn.

"It was a drop-and-run situation," Kelly said. None of the firefighters was injured.

Early yesterday, the behemoth structure, 1,000 feet long, 300 feet wide and 170 feet high, was reduced to rubble and firefighters were left to spray water on the burning heap.

Officials estimated the straw, which generated a plume of black smoke seen for miles, would continue to burn most of the week.

Winds scattered embers, igniting dozens of smaller blazes yesterday in grassland within a half-mile of the hangar, Kelly said. "Dozens is a conservative estimate," Kelly said. "Those roving fire engines have been busy."

None of the spot fires was very large, and crews had the upper hand, Kelly said. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Hangar B, another blimp hangar near Hangar A, shares the Guinness record with its twin. That hangar was unharmed.

The hay in Hangar A, worth about $200,000, was ready for shipment to Japan.

It was insured but the hangars, owned by the Port of Tillamook Bay, were not insured, officials said.

The port was renting the wooden structures to businesses in an attempt to stop a financial drain from their upkeep. But the port was having difficulty attracting industrial tenants.

The port has said the hangars cost $20,000 a month in upkeep.

The hangars were completed in 1943 and housed blimps for antisubmarine warfare.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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