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Huge Wooden Hangar, Airship Destroyed in Predawn Fire

August 4, 1995

WEEKSVILLE, N.C. (AP) _ A huge, humpbacked World War II-era hangar, one of the largest in the world, burned to the ground early Thursday, destroying an airship and damaging parts of several expensive surveillance blimps.

Flames from the blimp hangar _ which measured 1,080 feet long, 300 feet wide and the 180 feet high _ were visible 40 miles away.

``I’m numb,″ said Edgar Lambert, one of 50 employees of TCOM L.P. and Westinghouse Airships, which leased the hangar. No one was inside at the time, and no injuries were reported.

Damage was expected to top $100 million.

The landmark was one of nine structures built by the Navy in 1942 and 1943 that are listed in The Guinness Book of Records under ``largest wooden hangars.″ The remaining ones are include: two each at Tillamook, Ore.; Moffett Field and Santa Ana, Calif., and Lakehurst, N.J.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, but it apparently began near a steel-framed double door where employees had been working Wednesday with blow torches.

Also destroyed was a Westinghouse airship and parts for six or seven aerostats, unmanned balloons tethered to the ground used for radar surveillance along the southern United States border to track drug traffickers.

Two completed aerostats worth $30 million each were tethered on a runway outside the hangar and did not burn.

The hangar was built in 1942 as part of a naval air station for submarine hunting blimps. The base was decommissioned in 1957.

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