Hangar fire at Brown Field prompts temporary runway closure

OTAY MESA, Calif. - An explosive three-alarm fire engulfed two hangars at Brown Field Tuesday, sending a thick plume of black smoke over the airport and forcing a temporary closure of its runways.

The blaze in the 1400 block of Continental Street erupted for unknown reasons shortly after noon, according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

It caused about $100,000 in damage to the structure and about $600,000 in damage to the contents inside the buildings, including two light planes inside the structures. A third hangar was badly damaged.

The fire's cause is under investigation.

Several witnesses reported hearing an explosion as smoke began pouring out of the metal-roof structure, SDFRD spokesman Lee Swanson said.

Jeffrey Schuster, who owns planes in one of the hangers, told 10News, "It was a very loud explosion, multiple, and just things … shrapnel was just flying all over the place."

He added, "I drove my car right through all the black smoke and then first thing I checked to make sure all my guys were out of the hanger, and they were, and then I just started pulling my airplanes out … I have no losses. I pulled all my airplanes out, got everything; my people are OK."

Administrators of the municipal general-aviation airport near the U.S.-Mexico line suspended flight operations while crews worked to subdue the flames. The airport reopened at 3:30 p.m.

Hazardous-materials personnel were called in due to the likelihood of aircraft fuel and other toxic materials burning within the structure, according to Swanson. It was not immediately clear if the building had any planes inside it, he said.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Lorraine Hutchinson said, "We had indications that there would be possible hazmat inside and so we pulled our crews out and we took a defensive position for safety … Access is an issue. There are a lot of ordinary combustibles in there and so getting to the smoldering is going to take some time now."

No injuries were reported.

"We don't know what caused this. There are indicators that lead us to believe there was an explosion, just because of the metal debris and how things were scattered," Hutchinson said.

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