PARIS (AP) - A fire broke out on the top of the Eiffel Tower on
Tuesday, sending black smoke pouring from the 1,069-foot Paris
landmark and forcing the evacuation of thousands of visitors.
The fire - which erupted in a knot of cables in a
telecommunications room just below the tower's broadcast antenna -
was put out after 40 minutes, said fire official Christian
Decolloredo.
The cause was not immediately known, said Paris police chief
Jean-Paul Proust. The tower was temporarily closed.
Jean-Bernard Bros, the president of the company that operates
the tower, told LCI television that the monument's lower floors
would be reopened later in the evening. The tower stays open until
midnight in the summer.
"At no moment was the public in danger, at no moment was the
Eiffel Tower itself threatened by flames," Bros said.
Though it broke out above the highest point visitors can reach
in the tower - the third-floor observation deck 910 feet up - the
blaze rattled visitors to one of Europe's t-known monuments.
"I was at the top level with a friend of mine, and we started
smelling some kind of bad smell," said tourist Inza Dosso, an
Ivory Coast native who now lives in Atlanta. "I'm so distraught.
I'm glad they were able to stop it."
After black smoke began pouring from the tower's top at about
7:15 p.m., fire trucks and rescue vehicles gathered at the base as
tourists streamed out.
Up to 4,000 visitors were evacuated, Decolloredo said. Jean-Paul
Proust, the Paris police chief, said the evacuation took place "in
absolute calm." There were no reports of injuries.
A red helicopter swooped around the tower, inspecting the lower
floors. Police blocked off access as tourists waited on the grass
below, taking photographs or peering up through binoculars.
The thick smoke began to taper off soon afterward. About 40
minutes later, the blaze was put out, Decolloredo said.
Proust said the fire appeared to be electrical in nature. An
investigation was under way.
The distinctive bulb that tops the tower remained dark Tuesday
evening, while the orange lights that illuminate the structure each
night came on a little later than usual. A new special effect -
20,000 decorative lights that sparkle 10 minutes each hour - also
went on.
The same portion of the tower caught fire in 1956, destroying
the structure's summit.
The Eiffel Tower has had more than 200 million visitors since it
opened at the Paris Exhibition in 1889. It draws 6 million visitors
a year, making it the world's most popular paying tourist
attraction.
Last month, after nearly a year of rewiring, tower operators
began switching on 20,000 decorative light bulbs on the structure
every night.
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On the Net: http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/