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Fire Breaks Out in Capitol Building

Aired June 28, 2002 - 15:14   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

More now on that breaking story we're following for you: a fire in the nation's capitol. More specifically, in the Capitol building, where they have already evacuated hundreds of people: workers, people who were visiting as tourists, et cetera, because of a reported fire there.

So far, no signs of flames, only smoke. But we do have, we do have this live picture for you, where you are able to see the fire response teams on the scene there and any activity surrounding the U.S. Capitol building. Our Kate Snow is at the capitol, and Kate, can you hear me?

KATE SNOW, CNN CORESPONDENT: Hi, I think I can hear you in the background, though I'm not hearing air right now, but if you're talking to me, I can tell you a little bit about what's going on here.

The pictures you're looking at are pictures of Washington, DC firetrucks that have pulled up to the building here. We have all been evacuated out of the U.S. Capitol. We're told that there was smoke sighted up on the fourth floor of the United States Capitol in part of the House Speaker's office.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert has a number of different offices. There's one on the fourth floor that's known as his policy office, where staff would be seated. And we're told that there's been some smoke sighted there and also some initial reports, and I stress initial, that they're investigating that maybe there is a fire caused by a light fixture.

But that's just being investigated. Again, all we know right now is that there are signs of smoke from the fourth floor, and so they're taking every precaution and evacuating the Capitol building -- Fredricka.?

WHITFIELD: And Kate, among those people who have been evacuated, just from the pictures that we are able to see, it looks like an awful lot of workers and particularly a sizable number of tourists, who may have been in the building, which typically happens on a day-to-day basis.

SNOW: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. It's a beautiful day here and there are a lot of tourists up here. I can see hundreds from where I'm standing, looking out over the scene.

I'm standing and the camera you are looking at is over in the Canon House office building, which is another one of the buildings here on the campus. I should also note that we did see Speaker Hastert moving away from the scene. We saw him getting into a car. We're not sure where he was taken, but he's not in the office. And as I said, everyone has now been evacuated out of the building, the Capitol building.

WHITFIELD: Now Kate, you said you were in the Capitol building and you were among those who were evacuated. Were there alarms that sounded off? Or were people ...

SNOW: Yes.

WHITFIELD: Explain how that happened.

SNOW: There was an alarm that went off. It was very orderly. There were people who were in my office saying, let's go. You know, journalists like to keep working and they said, stop working, let's go.

One thing we should note is this is the first time we have evacuated the building since shortly after September 11. There was a false alarm just after September 11, about a week after that.

That's the last time they have cleared out this building. And since then, they've taken every precaution to make sure that people like me know how to get out of the building. That tourists know how to get out of the building. They've been very careful about having fire drills. In fact, when this first started, Fredricka, we thought maybe it was just a drill because they do practice now routinely, in light of 9-11, making sure they can get people out fast.

But again, from what we know so far, it sounds like this is a very isolated thing up on the fourth floor in one of the speaker's offices. We don't have any more information than that right now -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Now Kate, if indeed this fire did take place on the fourth floor in House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office or at least near one of his offices, you said that he was seen departing into a car. What about his staff workers? Anything about where they might be?

SNOW: Well, the staff would be out, too. Because frankly everyone is out of the building now. I can see crowds on the grass over there, and everyone was just told to get out just as a precaution. But we saw the speaker getting into a car.

There are plans to take him away from this area, away from the Capitol to other parts, where we don't even know where he's going in the event of a real emergency, but it's unclear to us where he's gone at this point. But he's away from the building.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kate, don't go far. We're probably going to come right back to you. But for now we want to take someone who's on the telephone with us, Vito Maggiolo. He's in the Capitol Plaza, and I suppose, Vito, were you among those who were evacuated from the building?

VITO MAGGIOLO, CNN ASSIGNMENT EDITOR: No, I wasn't, but let me give you a little idea of the situation.


MAGGIOLO: The fire department received a call, apparently reporting smoke in room H419. That's the House side of the main Capitol building.

Right now they are investigating an odor of smoke. They haven't determined the source. They do suspect that it might be a light ballast -- you know, the fluorescent lights, lights of those types, when their ballasts go bad, they do create a smoke condition.

They are still investigating. There's approximately seven pieces of fire equipment here: that's four bumper trucks, engine companies, two area ladder companies, and a heavy rescue squad, along with several command officers. They're inside the building, they're investigating. As you probably already know, the Capitol has been evacuated. Basically, they've secured the area around the Capitol and the firefighters are continuing to check for the source.

WHITFIELD: And so, Vito, are you able to tell us whether the procedure for evacuations has changed significantly since September 11? How far away are they asking the majority of the evacuees to stay from the U.S. Capitol building?

MAGGIOLO: Well, I can tell you that, from what I can tell, the evacuees, everybody has been pushed back out onto the streets that surround the Capitol. That would be Independence Avenue, Constitution Avenue and First Street.

Other than some staff and Capitol police security personnel and the firefighters, the East Plaza of the Capitol, which might normally have a lot of people in it, is completely barren.

WHITFIELD: And Vito, are you able to tell whether it's just this U.S. Capitol grounds that is directly affected? None of the other Senate or House office buildings?

MAGGIOLO: I have no reason to believe any of the other buildings were affected. The incident is reported to be in the Capitol building itself, so I suspect they would have no reason to have to evacuate or create a situation in the adjacent House or Senate office buildings.

WHITFIELD: All right, Vito Maggiolo, thank you very much for joining us, our own CNN assignment editor, who also happens to be a volunteer firefighter, helping us to get a better view, along with Kate Snow, as to the goings on on the U.S. Capitol grounds.

A fire reportedly in the fourth floor, likely very close to House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office, but everyone has been evacuated and we are talking about dozens and even, perhaps, hundreds of people, workers at the U.S. Capitol building, as well as an awful lot of tourists, who typically do go through the U.S. Capitol grounds at a time like this.

And we're also following another breaking story for you, this one out of Escondido, California, where a rescue is taking place. Right now you're looking at it live at the Family Fun Center.

More specifically, at a Ferris wheel ride there. All we know is that rescue workers are conducting a rescue. We don't know what preceded this rescue and exactly how the rescue is going right now. We do have reports of three people who were injured, at least one of whom might be a child. Now we're going to continue to keep tabs on these developing stories for you, but for now we're going to take a short break.




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