Fire prompts evacuations at hotels, offices near White House

The fire broke out at about 8 pm about a block from the White House.

Updated: Aug 15, 2010, 13:02 PM IST

Washington: An underground transformer fire near the White House prompted the evacuation of two landmark hotels and the National Press Building in downtown Washington on Saturday night. No injuries were reported.

The fire broke out at about 8 pm (0000 GMT) about a block from the White House, with flames and smoke shooting up through a sidewalk.

The historic Willard Intercontinental Hotel and W Hotel were evacuated. Several streets were closed to traffic and power was cut off to prevent the flames from spreading, police said.

"It was pretty spectacular," fire department spokesman Pete Piringer told the Washington Post, adding that the blaze was brought under control within minutes.

The area is busy on Saturday nights because of its proximity to theatres, bars and restaurants.

Initial investigations revealed that a transformer caught fire. Piringer said that water from heavy rains two days back might have damaged the electrical device and caused it to overheat.

Even after the flames were put out, tourists and Washington residents could see smoke billowing from the sidewalk, which fire officials said was likely generated from the burning of oil used to insulate or carry heat from the transformer.

Fire officials couldn`t say when power would be restored to the area.

The Willard is a landmark Washington hotel and has been the centre of social and political life in the city since it opened in 1818.