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Fire at Flight 93 memorial damages some Sept. 11 artifacts

Fire at Flight 93 memorial damages some Sept. 11 artifacts
Smoke rises from the Flight 93 National Memorial on Friday in Shanksville, Pa. (Dylan Johnson / Daily American)

A fire broke out near the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., on Friday afternoon, seriously damaging a building that housed at least 10% of the artifacts that were saved after the plane crashed in a field on Sept. 11, 2001, officials said.

Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the National Parks Service in Pennsylvania, told the Los Angeles Times that a fire spread through three administration buildings around 3 p.m., including a structure that housed several items set to be stored in a museum near the site next year.

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No one was injured, and the cause of the fire was not immediately known, Litterst said. There were nearly a dozen employees in the buildings when the blaze broke out, he said.

High winds caused the fire to spread to two other buildings after starting in the administration headquarters. All three structures are considered a total loss, according to the statement.

More than 90% of the artifacts from the memorial site, including many of the notes and remembrances left by visitors, are stored off-site, Litterst said. The Congressional Gold Medal that is displayed at the sites of each of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was not there at the time of the blaze, according to Litterst.

An oral history collection and photo collection from the site were saved by park staff, parks officials said in their statement.

The flag that flew over the Capitol building on Sept. 11, 2001, and several other artifacts were housed in one of the buildings, however, and staff members have not been able to gain access to the damaged structures to determine the condition of the flag or other items.

Many of the objects on site are stored in fireproof safes, the statement said.

Earlier Friday, an official with the Somerset County Office of Emergency Management told The Times that most of the items housed in the administrative buildings were seriously damaged.

"What was over there, they were all ruined," the official said.

Litterst said he had not received a full report on the damage done to the artifacts housed on site. The memorial itself is located roughly two miles from the buildings where the fire broke out, Litterst said.

"We are deeply saddened to learn that a fire occurred at the Flight 93 National Memorial headquarters," read a statement from Families of Flight 93, a group made up of relatives of victims of the crash who are committed to funding and maintaining the park. "We understand that no one was injured, and we are grateful for that. We await further details as to the extent of the damage, and the cause of the fire."

Gordon Felt, president of Families of Flight 93, told The Times relatives are nervously awaiting updates on the condition of the items stored on site.

"We're waiting with bated breath to really get a sense of what the damage was, to see if there were any artifacts that were lost," said Felt, whose older brother Edward died on Flight 93.

Flight 93 was one of four commercial airliners hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The plane crashed in a field outside Shanksville, Pa., after crew members and passengers fought back against hijackers in midair.

The flight, which took off from Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey, was destined for San Francisco. There were 182 passengers aboard the aircraft.

Despite the damage, Litterst said the memorial would be open Saturday.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for breaking news

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