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Fire at Flight 93 National Memorial
01:01 - Source: WTAE

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Flag that flew over U.S. Capitol on 9/11 is destroyed in a fire

Friday's blaze destroyed headquarters of Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania

Headquarters complex is about two miles from the memorial

Flight 93 crashed on September 11, 2001, after hijackers took over the plane

CNN  — 

The flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on September 11, 2001, was destroyed in a fire at the headquarters of the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, memorial to United Airlines Flight 93, the National Park Service said Saturday.

“There is a potential for 9/11 memorabilia loss due to a fire,” according to a statement from the National Park Service, but the extent of the damage is not known yet.

Investigators said the terrorists were most likely trying to turn the airplane toward Washington to hit a major political target, such as the Capitol.

In a statement, the National Park Service said the items that survived the fire included the majority of 820 oral histories conducted since 2005, the archival photo collection and 480 DVDs containing tens of thousands of images of the crash scene, investigation, temporary memorials and construction of the permanent memorial.

“Unfortunately, the flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on September 11, 2001, was destroyed,” the statement said.

The flag was donated by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert during last month’s 9/11 anniversary ceremony at the crash site.

Also lost in the fire were a handful of personal items of passengers and crew recovered from the crash site and from families, copies of DVDs of the annual commemoration ceremonies and meetings of the memorial’s federal advisory commission, and about 100 “tribute items” to the passengers and crew left by visitors since 2001.

NPS spokesman Mike Litterst said 10% of the archives and museum collection was stored in the damaged buildings, but much of it was kept in a fireproof safe.

Litterst told CNN affiliate WJAC that the buildings had fire alarms but no sprinklers.

Some charred documents have blown away from the fire scene and can be found on the grounds, Litterst said.

“We’ve got museum recovery teams to help us salvage items that may be smoke damaged or fire damages,” he said.

A memorial employee, who is also a member of the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department, suffered minor first-degree burns attempting to extinguish the blaze, which started about 3 p.m. Friday.

“We continue to be grateful that there was no loss of life to visitors or employees, especially given the speed with which the fire engulfed the structures,” Litterst said in the statement.

Ken Nacke, whose brother Louis was on Flight 93, said many 9/11 artifacts – including notes and other mementos left at a temporary memorial at the crash site – were being stored in the area where the fire burned.

“I think stuff has been lost,” Nacke said. “I just don’t know what has been lost. I know the layout of the buildings and I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s heartbreaking that we spent all this time to have this happen. All the blood sweat and tears that went into building this.”

“Neither the memorial proper nor the new visitor center currently under construction were affected, as the headquarters is located approximately two miles from those sites,” Litterst said.

The memorial, still incomplete, includes a visitor center with traditional and interactive exhibits, public programs and information about the history of Flight 93.

United Airlines Flight 93 was traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco when hijackers took over the plane, according to the 9/11 Commission.

Since 2001, more than 1 million people from around the world have visited the crash site.

What you need to know about the Flight 93 National Memorial

CNN’s Aaron Cooper, Deanna Hackney and Laura Bernardini contributed to this report.