washingtonpost.com  > Metro > The District

Courthouse Renovation Cited in Fire

By Dakarai I. Aarons and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, August 2, 2004; Page B03

A two-alarm fire early yesterday that destroyed a judge's chambers and caused heavy smoke and water damage elsewhere in a U.S. District Courthouse in Northwest Washington was caused by sparks from a paint sprayer, fire officials said.

Officials evacuated security guards and workers renovating the chambers and closed several streets around the federal facility, in the 300 block of Constitution Avenue, for more than two hours.

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The fire destroyed the office of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Laurence H. Silberman, said Sheldon Snook, administrative assistant to Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

It also caused smoke damage to the fourth, fifth and sixth floors of the courthouse and water damage to lower floors, said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Some computers were knocked off the court's network, Snook said.

Etter said the building's fire alarms went off at 12:45 a.m. When firefighters arrived and extended a ladder truck to the third floor, they found carpets and paint thinner ablaze in the room and called for backup.

Etter said a construction worker told fire investigators that the paint sprayer he was using had sparked, causing flames to spread quickly in a room full of paint and paint thinner.

Etter said no important documents were destroyed because they had been removed for the renovation. No one was injured, but one firefighter was treated on the scene for exhaustion.

It took firefighters more than half an hour to put out the blaze, which was contained to the chambers.

Investigators were unable to come up with an estimate of the damage.

The courthouse will be open today, but employees in the clerk's office may take liberal leave, Snook said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company