MANASSAS — Flames shot up to 20 feet in the air Thursday as more than 30 firefighters from departments throughout Northern Virginia battled a blaze at Manassas Regional Airport.
There were no fatalities. There were no injuries.
It was only a training exercise.
Capt. Ray Harvey of the Quantico Fire and Rescue Department hopes he never has to fight the real thing.
“These fires are really traumatic. And they result in large loss of life,” he said.
The fire drills at the airport Thursday and today are the culmination of two weeks of classes taken at Manassas’ Fire Station No. 1 on Va. 28, outside of Old Town.
The certification course, sponsored by the commonwealth’s Department of Fire Programs, is held twice a year in Virginia.
“I’ve been trying to hold this course out at the Manassas Regional Airport for a couple of years. This year, I was successful in getting it here,” said W.G. Shelton Jr., who runs the program.
Firefighters taking the course were from Manassas and Quantico, as well as departments serving Prince William, Loudoun, Stafford and Spotsylvania counties. A firefighter from New Jersey also was present.
The exercises at the airport utilized a $1.2 million mobile simulator that imitates an airplane on fire. There are only three such simulators in the world.
Shaped like an aircraft, the mobile simulator is 50 feet long and 18 feet wide. One propane burner simulates an engine fire. Another simulates a fire on the wheels.
“It’s just like your barbecue grill,” Shelton said.
Temperatures inside the simulator’s fuselage sometimes exceed 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It can spit fire right out the back of the engine, just like they would experience,” Shelton said.
Special pads outside the mock aircraft simulate a fire caused by jet fuel spilling out onto the runway. Up to 71 gallons of liquid propane are pumped into the pads every minute.
Bubbling up through water in the pads, the propane ignites to create flames that can reach up to 50 feet high. When all 15 of the pads are lit, the temperature exceeds 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Shelton said the advantage of the system is that the propane is clean. It leaves no residue behind. Computer sensors shut the fire down if it gets out of control.
Without protective clothing, the heat from the pad fires is almost too much to bear, even at a distance of 60 feet. A group of 10 firefighters advanced on the flames with two hoses, almost marching into the flames.
Once the water lowered the fire to a certain temperature, computer sensors shut off the propane. The fire receded before them.
The experience was invaluable for the firefighters present, they said.
“We’re the first to come in and assist Manassas with the airport,” said Philip Miller, a technician with the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department.
Staff writer Chris Newmarker can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 119.