updated 1/10/2010 4:31:15 PM ET 2010-01-10T21:31:15

Road salt accumulating on a utility pole caused a fire Sunday that knocked out electrical power to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, canceling dozens of flights and leaving airlines' schedules uncertain for the rest of the day.

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The fire on a utility pole in suburban Brook Park next to the airport caused the pole to fall on lines, interrupting power about 6:50 a.m., according to the airport and Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp.

The salt combined with moisture inside a transformer and then acted as a conductor for electricity in high voltage lines, starting a fire that smoldered on the inside of the pole, according to the utility. Crews restored power about 2:30 p.m.

Continental, United, American, Southwest and US Air were among the airlines that canceled flights after the early morning outage. Almost all of the day's normal departures of about 260 flights were canceled.

American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said the airline has canceled 16 American Eagle flights, both inbound and outbound, as a result of the power outage. American Airlines itself does not fly into Cleveland.

She said the routes mainly affected were to and from Chicago and Dallas, and one flight from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.

United Airlines canceled two flights. Spokesman Mike Trevino said the outage had a "minimal impact" on the airline.

Even with power restored it was expected to take airlines a while to restore operations. Airport spokeswoman Jackie Mayo said passengers should check with airlines before returning to the airport. Anyone with flights scheduled for Monday morning should plan to arrive early since the airport was expected to be especially busy, she said.

The outage affected the terminal, which had limited lighting from a backup generator, and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's rapid transit stop at the airport. The tower and airfields were operating normally and flights were still able to land, said Mayo.

Charley Howard of Youngstown was dropped off at the airport at 6 a.m. to fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for work. She learned her flight was canceled at 10 a.m. and headed home about an hour and a half later.

"This screws up my whole week," she told Cleveland's Plain-Dealer.

An outage at Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C., on Jan. 4 grounded flights for about an hour.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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