Contract Employee Eyed in Fire That Grounded Chicago Flights

A contract employee apparently started the fire at a Federal Aviation Administration facility outside Chicago that has grounded hundreds of flights, according to the Aurora, Illinois, chief of police.

“It appears to be a fire set by a contract employee,” chief Greg Thomas told reporters this morning. “There was no terrorist act.”

Aurora firefighters responding to the fire before 6 a.m. at the Air Traffic Control System Command Center discovered a man in the “basement suffering from apparent self-inflicted (non-gunshot) wounds,” officials said.

“The male was transported to an Aurora hospital where he is undergoing treatment,” city of Aurora spokesman Dan Ferrelli said in a statement. “The fire has been extinguished.”

A federal law enforcement official told ABC News “It sounds like it [the fire] was intentionally set,” though adding “it does not sound like it was an attack on the facility.”

The FAA has halted flights to and around Chicago.

City of Aurora spokesman Ferrelli said, “At 5:42 a.m. Aurora Fire and Police responded to the FAA Air Traffic Control Center, 619 W. Indian Trail, for a report of a fire in the basement of the facility.”

He added: “Approximately 15 to 30 employees at the center were evacuated. One other employee, and adult male, approximately 50 years old, was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.”

Chief Thomas said the 50-year-old man was released and is not the contract employee.

The fire occurred in the facility’s main telecommunications area, which is an important location for handling communications with aircraft, a senior government official told ABC News.

Officials from the Chicago Department of Aviation said, “Both O’Hare and Midway International Airports are in a ground stop, meaning no arrivals or departures, until at least 8 a.m. due to the fire.”

“At Midway, Southwest Airlines has suspended flights until noon,” the department said in a statement.

Flightaware.com reported this morning that as of 9:05 a.m. ET, it had seen 446 cancellations to and from O’Hare and Midway airports, “which is about 13 percent of their daily schedule. Additionally, we have seen 107 delays. We expect the number of cancellations and delays to rise considerably over the next few hours.”

Stay with 8News for more updates.

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