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Fire at airport delays flights

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

In a week of increased bag checks, closer passenger scrutiny and touchy nerves, Mother Nature caused another inconvenience Tuesday night for travelers at Tampa International Airport.

A bolt of lightning apparently ignited a small fire on the roof of Airside D at 8:12 p.m., causing minimal damage but requiring a 20-minute evacuation of the building and flight delays, said Angel Garcia, assistant director of operations for the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Shortly after the lightning strike, an operator in the airport's control tower saw the flames and called 911, Garcia said. The Tampa Fire Department responded with 13 units and extinguished the fire within minutes, officials said.

"It was a real small fire, maybe 2 feet wide, but we had to take all safety precautions," Garcia said. A number of incoming flights were delayed during the evacuation, which lasted until 8:33 p.m., and planes that would have taken off at that time were held up because ground personnel were evacuated.

Northwest Airlines leases Airside D from the authority and will be responsible for roof repairs, Garcia said. United Airlines, ValuJet and Gulf Stream also use the building, subleasing from Northwest, Garcia said.

Lightning made frequent appearances in Hillsborough County Tuesday night during a heavy storm that dumped nearly 3 inches of rain on the area in less than two hours, said National Weather Service forecaster Andy Nash.

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