- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

A small electrical fire prompted the evacuation of a U.S. Capitol office building yesterday, four days after the Capitol was cleared by a similar incident.
A U.S. Capitol Police sergeant on building patrol discovered smoke near an elevator at about 1:45 p.m. in the Longworth House Office Building, which sits south of the Capitol, across Independence Avenue.
The smoke was caused by a small electrical fire in the insulation around the elevator motor, Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said. He said the fire caused concern because the smoke spread throughout the building through the elevator shafts.
No injuries were reported, and the fire was quickly extinguished, said Battalion Chief James Talbert of the D.C. fire department.
Preliminary reports indicate that the blaze might have been sparked by workers using welding torches and solder on a pipe near insulation inside one of the building's air-handling units.
Investigators were also checking whether problems with the ventilation system may have been a factor.
"We actually began checking over the weekend, following the fire at the U.S. Capitol on Friday," said Kenneth E. Lauziere, a staff engineer with the Office of the Architect of the Capitol.
Mr. Lauziere said yesterday's fire is still being investigated.
About 2,000 employees and visitors were inside Longworth at the time, and it took 20 minutes to evacuate the building a quick evacuation "for a building that size," Lt. Nichols said.
Employees were allowed back in the building at about 2:40 p.m.
A report found last year that fire safety in congressional buildings, including the Capitol, was "severely deficient."
In September, the Office of Compliance issued six citations to the Capitol's architect for not correcting the fire-safety violations, which included the use of unauthorized and unsafe electrical equipment and wiring methods.
The citations were also issued for a lack of inspection and maintenance by the architect's office.
One official estimated that the lightning-protection systems at the Capitol power plant probably hadn't been inspected during the 75 years they have existed.
The Capitol was briefly evacuated Friday, after smoke from an overheated motor in the ventilation system was detected on the fourth floor of the building's House side.
Lt. Nichols said all the elevator systems will be checked for safety purposes, but that the two fires are "just one of those unusual coincidences."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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