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Industrial building next to Clearwater Airpark destroyed in blaze

CLEARWATER — A Friday night fire at a large industrial building kept firefighters busy well into Saturday and forced the owners of the destroyed structure to regroup.

More than 75 firefighters battled the blaze at the headquarters of Aerosonic Corp., 1212 N Hercules Ave., next to Clearwater Airpark.

The building was one of three in the Aerosonic complex and was used to test and assemble aircraft parts. Officials reported several explosions as the fire raged, forcing firefighters into a defensive posture. It took more than three hours to bring the fire under control, with the 40,000-square-foot building declared a total loss. No estimate of the cost was available Saturday.

Firefighters from Clearwater, Dunedin, Largo and Safety Harbor converged on the scene after the emergency call came in about 11:15 p.m. Friday.

Aerosonic, a publicly traded company founded in 1953, manufactures aviation instrumentation and avionics equipment, including cockpit displays, sensors and probes. It sells to aircraft manufacturers and the U.S. military.

The company recently announced a new contract with the government to provide indicators for the Army's UH 60 Blackhawk helicopter. But it also reported a net loss of $3.8-million in fiscal year 2008 as the company moved its operations in Earlysville, Va., to Clearwater.

A news release blamed the losses on the cost of the move and the resulting drop in production. But it said the move put the company in a good position to rebound.

The fire, however, appears to have altered the company's plans. Aerosonic executive vice president Mark Perkins said one option discussed as company officials huddled Saturday was to move some operations to the Virginia facility "while we regroup."

The company employs about 170 people in Clearwater, Perkins said. About 40 worked in the destroyed building, and it was unclear Saturday how their jobs would be affected.

The other two buildings were not damaged, he said.

Firefighters also saved the city of Clearwater's General Services Building a few feet away, said Clearwater public safety spokeswoman Elizabeth Daly-Watts.

Members of the Pinellas County Hazardous Materials Team remained at the site through much of Saturday to monitor whether the fire had caused any environmental damage in the area. But Daly-Watts said early indications were that no such damage had occurred.

One firefighter was hospitalized for an ankle injury and three others were treated at the scene for "fire exhaustion," she said.

It could take several days to investigate the fire, she said.

Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at tobin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8923.

Industrial building next to Clearwater Airpark destroyed in blaze 08/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 11, 2008 10:02am]
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