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Smoking backpack causes panic at Florida airport

iStock/Thinkstock(ORLANDO) -- Travelers at Orlando International Airport were sent running when an unattended backpack began smoking on Friday night.

The cause was not an explosive device, as many feared, but rather a camera battery that caught fire.

Ricardo Perez, an officer with the Transportation Security Administration, leapt into action when the bag first started smoking, moving the backpack between two pillars to shield people from the potential blast. He said his chief concern was protecting passersby from the danger, even if it put his own safety at risk.

"If there was an IED I was already gone," Perez said. "So I might as well try to save as many as I can."

There have been at least 19 incidents involving a battery catching fire on a plane or in an airport so far this year. This comes as the Federal Aviation Administration continues to push for tighter regulations for checked luggage, in part due to the fact that if a bag catches fire mid-flight, crew members can't put it out.

Passengers reported hearing loud banging sounds, causing panic "throughout" the airport, according to the statement. Many passengers fled through the security checkpoints and into the terminal. Authorities had to declare a ground stop and re-secure the airport, a process that takes hours at large airports like Orlando.

Airlines cancelled more than 24 flights and TSA re-screened more than 5,000 passengers after the incident, which security officials said lasted approximately four hours and affected more than 100 flights.

"Our TSA team's performance was outstanding. I'm very proud of our team and how they responded to both the incident and the recovery process of rescreening passengers,” TSA Federal Security Director Jerry Henderson said. “Our people responded as they are trained to do, and to lead passengers to safety. I am especially proud of our Officer who unselfishly rushed to a potentially deadly situation in order to protect lives."

Authorities did not report any injuries from the incident.

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