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Major Fire Destroys 3 Buildings At Flight 93 Memorial

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. (KDKA/AP) - A raging fire destroyed three buildings at the headquarters complex of the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County on Friday afternoon, but it's still unknown if any 9/11 artifacts were lost.

In a press release, National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said the area must first be declared safe before officials will be allowed on scene to check out the collection storage area.

According to Litterst, an oral history and photo collection were saved, but the condition of the 9/11 flag that flew over the United States Capitol on Sept. 11 it not known.

The flag was presented to the park last month during the 9/11 anniversary observance, and it was being stored on site.

When the staff is allowed back on the site, they will check the condition of the flag.

"It's very heartbreaking; it really brings you back to that day," Ken Nacke, whose brother was on Flight 93, told NewsRadio 1020 KDKA's Bill Rehkopf. "Some of the items from the temporary memorial may have been lost."

Nacke was instrumental in securing fundraising for the memorial, and working with the victims' families.

"We gave a lot of personal stuff to the memorial, that we wanted to be shared with everyone, the more and more I think about it, the more heartbreaking it becomes," Nacke said.

Litterst says "only 10 percent of the Flight 93 National Memorial collection was kept on-site," and many of the artifacts are stored in fireproof safes.

The Congressional Medal of Honor, presented there last month, was not in the complex when the fire broke out, the press release said.

Nacke says messages, and notes that were left on a temporary fence after the 9/11 crash were being stored in the area where the fire burned.

"You could read messages or notes and letters left by visitors that were actually very touching and heartwarming how the expressed their feelings about what the heroes of Flight 93 did that day."

"It was amazing thing to see since you know for it being just a piece of fence that was stretched high and long where people could just stop by and leave tributes behind," said Nacke. "I know for my family alone that was a very comforting spot to go to visit even though you were several hundred yards away from the actual impact site."

LISTEN: Ken Nacke Interview:

Ken Nacke On Fire At Flight 93 Memorial

In addition to storage, Litterst says the destroyed buildings were used for administrative and staff offices, including the superintendent's office, and conference facilities. All staff members and volunteers were able to evacuate safely.

No injuries were reported.

The Families of Flight 93 released a statement about the fire: "We are deeply saddened to learn that a fire occurred at the Flight 93 National Memorial headquarters. 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."

The fire broke out just after 3 p.m. in the headquarters complex.

Litterst says high winds fanned the flames.

"We are also grateful for the quick and professional response of the many area fire departments and other first responders who assisted in putting this fire out, preventing further damage to the site without incurring any injuries among their members," Litterset said in the press release.

Reporters on the scene say tankers were being forced to ferry in water to help fight the blaze, since there are no hydrants in the area.

National Park Service special agents will be taking over the investigation.

The flames didn't affect the memorial or construction of the visitors' center, which are about two miles away on the large property.

For that reason, the actual Flight 93 National Memorial will remain open to the public. They will begin welcoming visitors Saturday morning at the regular time.

The memorial in Shanksville marks the spot where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The plane, which was traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, went down in a reclaimed strip mine after passengers fought back against its hijackers. All 33 passengers and seven crew members were killed along with the hijackers.

A memorial plaza was completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the attacks in 2011. It features a white stone wall with separate panels for each victim, with one name engraved on each.

The wall traces the path of the doomed flight. The wall and 40 groves of 40 trees are ways to focus attention on the crash site and the victims' memories.

Officials have said they hope construction of the visitor's center will be finished by June. That would give park officials three months to install exhibits in time to open for the 14th anniversary of the crash.

Stay with KDKA for the latest on this developing story.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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