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Chicago Airports Reopen After 'Deliberate' Fire At FAA Facility

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More than 2,000 flights into and out of Chicago’s two airports were canceled or delayed today as the result of a fire apparently set by a contract employee at an air traffic control facility in Aurora.

Modified flight schedules resumed late in the morning, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas told the Chicago Tribune that the fire was deliberately set. "There is no terrorist act," he said. "This is a local issue with a contract employee and nothing else."

The Chicago office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported that a man with who suffered burns and had cuts on his hands and arms apparently used gasoline to start the fire. 

ATF spokesman Tom Ahern said, "We just don’t know at this point why he may have done this”

Police said the man is a contractor, not an air traffic controller or FAA manager.

"We understand that this is a local issue with a contract employee and nothing else," Aurora Police Chief Gregory Thomas told reporters. "There is no terrorist act."

It was the second time since May that a fire at a major control facility prompted a ground stop at O'Hare and Midway international airports.

The Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora was evacuated, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said.

Aurora spokesman Dan Ferrelli told WBBM TV that a man was found in the basement suffering from self-inflicted wounds, though he had not been shot. The man was taken to an Aurora hospital for treatment. Another employee at the facility was treated for smoke inhalation.

Flights headed into both airports were being diverted to other airports, while flights departing the airports were being delayed.

Airports in Wisconsin and Iowa also were being affected by the fire at the radar facility. No flights had been diverted to the Chicago-Rockford International Airport as of 10 a.m. today.

Airspace management duties have been transferred to other air traffic facilities.

The facility in Aurora tracks flights across parts of five states – Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan. It is home to some of the most sophisticated radar equipment in the nation. Controllers at the facility handle nearly 3 million flight operations a year, tracking flights, adjusting speed and altitude for planes, and keeping them at safe distances.

CBS Chicago reports no flames or smoke were visible from outside the building. Six fire trucks and at least three ambulances responded to the building, along with several police vehicles.

In May, an electrical problem with a bathroom exhaust fan forced the evacuation of a regional radar facility in Elgin. That site was evacuated for three hours, and more than 1,100 flights were canceled.