Eiffel Tower evacuated following discovery of fire

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

PARIS -- 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 a stream 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, and Decolloredo could not say for how long.

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 Europe's best-known monument.

"I was at the top level with a friend of mine, and we started smelling some kind of bad smell," said tourist Ivan Dosso, an Ivory Coast native who now lives in Atlanta. "I'm so distraught. I'm glad they were able to stop it."

Eiffel Tower staff quickly directed him and others to the stairs leading to the exit, and he rushed down.

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 around 150 tourists streamed out.

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.

Officials said they were not sure whether anyone was in the area where the fire erupted. There were no reports of injuries.

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/

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