A huge fire engulfed the cargo section of Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport yesterday, temporarily disrupting air traffic and causing thousands of people to flee, authorities said.
Deputy Governor Fikret Kasapoglu said three people suffered smoke inhalation but there were no other casualties in the blaze, which spewed thick black smoke high into the air. Authorities gave various possible causes for the fire, including a spark from a welder's torch or a short-circuit.
Another deputy governor, Vedat Muftuoglu, said there was no sign of terrorism or sabotage.
Hundreds of uniformed cargo workers who escaped the building in a panic were anxiously watching the blaze meters away from the building.
"A huge black cloud came, it smelled like cables burning, the roof started burning," cargo worker Omer Toplar said. "There was no explosion."
Toplar said the fire, which caused substantial damage to the warehouses of major cargo companies, could severely affect cargo flights to Istanbul.
"Things will have to come by boat," Toplar said, fearing that he could lose his job.
Planes dropped water onto the flames, and airport authorities said the fire was slowly being tamed.
"The fire is under control and we're taking precautions to prevent it from spreading to passenger terminals," said Baris Tozar, the undersecretary of the Transportation Ministry.
"There are no problems concerning flight security," Tozar added.
Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas also said the threat was decreasing.
Private NTV television said the blaze began in a section where fuel depots were located.
Airport director Irfan Balta said planes had been successfully moved away from the danger area.
The cargo building is used to store international cargo arriving in Istanbul. A hangar housing military aircraft is located nearby.