bc-091220-prince-george-airport-fire2

The blaze, which broke out Saturday afternoon at the Prince George airport, destroyed the Northern Thunderbird Air hangar. ((Sumbitted by Steven Kostamo))

Police say a 53-year-old man is unaccounted for after a massive fire destroyed a hangar at an airport in Prince George, B.C.

The Northern Thunderbird Air hangar, which housed airplanes and the head offices of a northern B.C. airline, caught fire Saturday afternoon.

Police say the man's family members contacted them Saturday afternoon when he didn't come home. His car was found outside the destroyed structure.

Investigators conducted a preliminary search of the hangar Sunday, but said the wreckage hampered their search.

Witness questions fire crews' response time

Investigators scoured the scene of the blaze Sunday in trying to determine the cause of the fire, which ripped through the wood-frame building and gutted the two-storey structure.

The airport was open Sunday, but travellers were told to expect delays.

Witnesses said flames soared so high, the fire could be seen dozens of kilometres away.

"All I saw was just flames galore," said Bobbi Horwath, who works for a car rental company at the airport. "I just thought it was one of their practice fires and as I got closer, it was really serious."

Wilfrid Underwood was also amazed by the scene.

He saw the fire soon after it started and called the authorities, but he's questioning why firefighters took so long to arrive.

Underwood said he called 911 at 2:30 p.m. PT, but crews didn't arrive until 3 p.m.

"Where was everybody and how come there was no fire protection out here for the airport?" he asked.

"As far as that goes, what are the rules and regulations? Shouldn't somebody have been here to do something?"

But Daryl Moulder, chief of the fire crew employed by the Prince George Airport Authority, said protocol kept them on the sidelines.

"Our concern is the airport itself. We look after the aviation side, the city looks after the structures," Moulder said.

Because of that policy, Moulder's crew watched the blaze while they waited for city firefighters, who had to drive 14 kilometres to get there.