Sometime in the near future, three travelers will fly into Baltimore-Washington International Airport, wait patiently for their suitcases to be spit out onto the luggage carousel, then trudge through the airport and board the shuttle buses that will take them to their cars in the satellite parking lot.

They will look for their cars. But, with perhaps a creeping sense of dread, they will not find them.

That's because a BWI shuttle bus was destroyed by an engine fire yesterday, a conflagration so intense that three cars parked nearby in the long-term Blue Lot also went up in flames. There were no injuries, but 11 cars were damaged by the fire, three of them so seriously that they were towed away.

"They were burned pretty good," said BWI spokesman John White.

The Maryland fire marshal is investigating. Maryland Transportation Authority police are trying to contact all the travelers whose cars were damaged, but given that the owners parked their cars and then jetted off somewhere else, this could be a difficult process.

"It could be days, weeks, even months before they come back. It's hard to say when the owners will return," White said.

The fire on the bus, which was powered by natural gas, started just after 11 a.m. The driver noticed smoke and evacuated the five passengers and their luggage. Minutes later, the entire bus ignited, spreading the fire to adjacent vehicles. Eight of them were moderately damaged, suffering mostly warped bodywork from the heat and scratches and dings from flying debris.

Information about the accident has been placed on the windshields of the damaged cars. The insurance policy on the bus, operated by a private contractor, Hudson General, should cover repairs, BWI officials said.

The owners of the three incinerated cars face a more problematic homecoming. For the next few weeks, shuttle buses will have tape-recorded announcements informing riders of the accident near Bus Stop 10 and whom to contact for information. But if the car owners miss this message, it may take them a while to figure out exactly what happened while they were away.

CAPTION: Firefighters try to extinguish a fire that destroyed a shuttle bus and damaged 11 cars at a satellite parking lot at BWI Airport.