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Inferno engulfs Istanbul airport

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CNN viewer Erkan Ercengiz took this image of the airport fire.

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Turkey
Istanbul (Turkey)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- A massive fire that swept through a cargo area at Ataturk International Airport has been blamed on sparks from a welding operation.

At 8 p.m., planes continued to drop water on the charred remains of the 20,000-square-meter (215,280-square-foot) facility to ensure the blaze was wholly extinguished.

About 2,000 people were evacuated within minutes after the fire started at 3:30 p.m. (1230 GMT). Three suffered minor injuries, said Istanbul's deputy governor, Fikret Kasapogru. (Watch giant orange flames covered in smoke fill the sky -- 1:00)

In addition to holding leather goods and textiles, the cargo area contained explosives and chemicals, which caused the fire to spread rapidly.

At the height of the blaze, plumes of thick black smoke from the massive blaze billowed hundreds of meters into the air, darkening the sky above Istanbul.

"People panicked when they saw the huge smoke. It was a close shave because it was so near to the international passenger terminal," Mustafa Alpa, a tour guide at the airport, told Reuters.

But only one small runway was closed, and planes continued to take off and land at Turkey's largest airport, which is just outside the city.

Working from air and ground, firefighters attacked the fire, which had also threatened a nearby hotel.

Aided by wind blowing in the opposite direction, hundreds of firefighters worked to keep the flames away from a building near the cargo area that contained fuel tanks.

An airport worker said computer systems were temporarily shut down, but flights continued, with workers using manual systems to check people in and out.

Hundreds of people gathered along the perimeter of the airport to watch the scene.

CNN Turk Producer Kaya Heyse said the fire was contained in the cargo section of the airport, although it briefly threatened a hotel near the airport.

An airport worker said computer systems were shut down, but flights were continuing, with workers using manual systems to check people in and out. Priority was being given to landing planes and delays were expected for departures, she said.

The general director of state airport authority, Mahmut Tekin, told Reuters the fire had been brought under control and that "there is no problem with air traffic but some flights are delayed."

More than 10 million people live in Istanbul and the airport is the country's largest.

CNN Turk Producer Kaya Heyse and journalist Gokhan Guvenc contributed to this report.

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