ATF investigating hangar fire at Mesa’s Falcon Field - East Valley Tribune: Public Safety

ATF investigating hangar fire at Mesa’s Falcon Field

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Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2012 5:23 pm | Updated: 9:41 am, Tue Sep 11, 2012.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is now involved with the Mesa Fire Department in an ongoing investigation of a fire inside an airplane storage hangar at Mesa’s Falcon Field where firearms and ammunition was discovered, according to a Mesa Fire spokesman.

During the early stages of the investigation of the fire, which broke out at the east Mesa airport about 6 p.m. Aug. 26, firearms and a “significant amount” of ammunition were discovered inside Hangar J on the southwest portion of the property where the fire caused the total loss of three airplanes and damaged at least three others, according to Rick Kochanski, deputy Mesa fire chief and fire marshal.

Tom Mangan, a spokesman for ATF, said that ATF agents were called the day after the fire by Mesa fire officials to assist with the investigation. Agents interviewed the owner of the firearms and ammunition, but did not arrest him, according to Kochanski.

However, under the city’s building code, the hangars are for the storage of airplanes and the storage of firearms and ammunition is prohibited, according to Mesa building inspector Steve Heather.

“As far as building codes are concerned, that occupancy would not allow for the storage of ammunition or firearms and putting it there would be a violation of the building’s occupancy code,” Heather said.

It was not immediately known who owned the firearms and ammunition or why they were storing them at the airport, but Heather went on to say that the owner of the firearms possibly could be facing charges for an occupancy violation of the building code, a misdemeanor criminal offense, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Kochanski also said that some of the occupants of the hangar are filing insurance claims against the city because of the damage to their planes, some of which were covered in soot. Those planes will be tested for flight capability and performance, Kochanski said.

The ammunition, which had been placed on some kind of shelving unit had somehow fallen to the ground before catching fire, Kochanski said.

“Ammunition is not allowed to be at the airport, and it wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place,” Kochanski said. “Ammunition is not unusual, but it’s unusual to find. There was a significant amount of it.”

No one was believed to be inside the hangar when the fire broke out, but there were people at the airport who saw the fire start and alerted authorities, Kochanski said.

Forrest Smith, a Mesa fire spokesman, said on Thursday that fire inspectors believe that they have located the point of origin of the fire, which was not released, but did say fire crews were hampered once they arrived on the scene.

“When our crews got there, there was a great deal of small explosions of the ammunition due to the fire and the heat,” Smith said.

No injuries were reported, and a dollar amount on the damage caused by the fire has yet to be determined.

Corinne Nystrom, director of Falcon Field, could not be reached for comment.

Although there are no specific Federal Aviation Administration regulations addressing the storage of guns or ammunition in an airplane hangar, airports that accept federal grants must ensure airplane hangars are used for aeronautical purposes, according to FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.

Unless someone stored so many crates of guns and/or ammunition in a hangar that couldn’t be used for aeronautical purposes, the FAA regulations would not apply, according to Gregor.

The fire happened less than two weeks before ramp construction was set to begin at the airport this week, something which was not interrupted, according to airport officials.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, about 60 people attended building inspection and safety compliance meetings at Falcon Field for the occupants, but those meetings were unrelated to the fire, according to Dee Anne Thomas, a spokeswoman for Falcon Field.

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