- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2001

A three-alarm fire in Adams Morgan yesterday destroyed the Algerian Embassy and snarled afternoon traffic for hours around Connecticut Avenue as more than 100 firefighters battled the blaze.
One firefighter was slightly injured in the fire, which was reported about 2:30 p.m. Fire officials are investigating the cause of the blaze, which consumed the top floors of the three-story Tudor-style brick embassy building.
Mario Dispenza, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), said there is nothing immediately suspicious about the fire and it will take at least "a couple days" to determine its cause and origin.
"Right now, we're assisting the fire department here in D.C., just as we do routinely on big fires," said ATF spokesman Harold Scott.
The embassy, at 2118 Kalorama Road NW, stands just across the street from the Chinese Embassy and just up the street from the Portuguese Embassy. Kalorama intersects Connecticut Avenue at the end of Taft Bridge.
Algerian Embassy personnel were among about 10 people who fled the building as the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services began arriving. The Algerians would talk only to fire and investigation officials.
Idriss Jazairy, Algeria's new ambassador to the United States, was not inside at the time of the fire. He appeared distraught when he arrived.
Occupants of an adjoining apartment building and the Windsor Park Hotel also were evacuated. The hotel's tar roof was afire briefly. Both buildings were saturated with some of the smoke that towered high in the sky.
"I smelled the strong smoke. I thought something was burning in my apartment," said Laurette Klieforth, 47, who lives two doors down in the Dresden Building.
She picked up her 3-year-old white, West Highland terrier named Daphne and went outdoors, eventually joined by about 100 onlookers.
"You'd think this was turning into a major catastrophe, but we had this contained within 40 minutes," said Alan Etter, spokesman for the D.C. fire department.
Mr. Etter said the investigation into the fire's cause will begin this morning.
The slightly injured firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion and nausea at the scene and released.
The three fire alarms called about 100 firefighters with 13 engine companies, a rescue squad and seven aerial ladders to the scene, according to Battalion Chief Frank Tremel.
"It was involved when we got here," Chief Tremel said. "When we arrived, the fire had burned out the top."
One spectator, Osama Sharabassi, president of the Arab American Community Center, said the fire department arrived late and couldn't get water for more than an hour to extinguish the blaze.
Not true, Chief Tremel said, explaining that hoses had to be run from several hydrants and that more than 4,000 gallons a minute were shot into the inferno.
Secret Service spokesman Marc Connolly said the building had been undergoing renovations.
"It's up to the Algerian government to either rebuild it or move," said State Department spokesman David Staples.
Another State spokesman, Gregory Sullivan, said the U.S. Office of Foreign Missions could provide office space and equipment to allow the embassy staff to continue diplomatic duties.
Algeria handles Iraq's diplomatic affairs in Washington in the absence of relations between the United States and Baghdad, but that "interest section" is housed in another building. The interest section was opened soon after Iraq's August 1991 invasion of Kuwait.
Algeria's embassy is not the first to go up in flames. The most recent was in 1995, when a two-alarm fire ripped through a building owned by the Turkish Embassy in the 2500 block of Massachusetts Avenue NW.
In 1990, the Liberian Embassy, in the 5200 block of 16th Street NW, was severely damaged when a fire broke out on the first floor of the building. In 1988, a first-floor office at the Indian Embassy caught fire when a fluorescent light ignited the office ceiling. The blaze caused $50,000 in damage to the building in the 2500 block of Massachusetts Avenue NW.
More serious trouble is brewing in the Algerian Embassy's homeland.
The Algerian government has waged a bloody eight-year struggle with Islamic militants that has claimed more than 100,000 lives, sparked when Algeria's military called off an election in 1992 that the country's main Islamic political faction was set to win.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has pursued a wide-ranging civil-reconciliation program since coming to power in April 1999, issuing a conditional amnesty to fundamentalists who had not committed violent crimes.
But the violence has persisted, and Mr. Bouteflika yesterday promised an "iron-fisted" crackdown on the "terrorists and traitors" threatening the state. Nearly 200 people were killed in terrorist attacks during last month's Ramadan holy month observances in the North African nation.
David R. Sands contributed to this report.


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