UPDATED: Airline traffic in and out of Stavanger’s main airport at Sola resumed on Wednesday, after a raging fire in the airport’s parking garage halted it on Tuesday afternoon and evening. Firefighters now believe the fire started in an older diesel car and spread quickly.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg was among those stranded by the airport closure, which didn’t reopen until Wednesday morning. Solberg had arrived back at Sola by helicopter after taking part in official opening ceremonies of the huge new Johan Sverdrup oil field in the North Sea, which actually started pumping oil last fall.
“We’re grounded by the fire after the Johan Sverdrup opening,” Solberg tweeted at around 5pm, adding that she and those accompanying her would have to drive from Stavanger back to Oslo Tuesday night. The road trip takes more than seven hours even when the weather is good and roads are clear. It was stormy and roads were slick on Tuesday.
As Solberg asked for tips about the best fast-food place to stop for dinner on the way, thousands of other travelers were also stranded by the airport’s closure and subsequent evacuation. Fire Chief Runar Heggen feared that the entire multi-story parking garage would collapse, and a major portion of it later did.
“As of now we’ve had a partial construction collapse,” Heggen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) shortly after 6pm. By 7pm, the situation inside the garage was so dangerous that no firefighters were allowed inside. Heggen’s crews lacked control over the blaze, which involved “open flames and lots of smoke,” and could only fight it with hoses from outside the structure.
As the fire spread in the garage, explosions could be heard as parked cars’ fuel tanks blew up from the heat. Heggen confirmed Tuesday evening that more than 300 cars were already destroyed. By Wednesday the number was over 600.
Crisis team set up
Airport operator Avinor reported that the garage has capacity for more than 3,000 cars and was almost full when the fire broke out around 4pm. Insurers were estimating damage amounting to hundreds of million of kroner.
The smoke and explosions from the fire that was first reported at around 3pm Tuesday forced not only the halt in all airline traffic but also evacuation of nearby buildings. A Scandic Hotel at the airport was among them, with both travelers and those evacuated due to be taken to another hotel in Stavanger. Many airline passengers were gathered in the departure hall until they could be sent by bus to evacuation areas outside the airport property.
The situation grew worse instead of better as the afternoon and evening wore on. Avinor set up a crisis team with airport management working with police and other emergency response agencies, and warned that the fire would likely cause airline delays at other Norwegian airports as well because of the aircraft groundings in Stavanger.