Artwork 'safe and secure' after fire closes the Phillips Collection

By Paul Duggan and Mary Pat Flaherty
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 3, 2010; C03

A fire at the Phillips Collection closed the Dupont Circle art museum Thursday after smoke spread throughout the building, forcing its evacuation, authorities said.

Fire alarms went off at the museum, at 1600 21st St. NW, around 8:30 a.m. according to D.C. Fire Department spokesman Pete Piringer. A small fire broke out on the roof and in the ceiling of the top floor of the four-story building, which houses French impressionist masterpieces and modern American works, Piringer said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Piringer said, but the building is under renovation and investigators believe welding work may be the culprit. All of the artwork is "safe and secure," a museum spokeswoman said in a statement.

Museum staff and firefighters moved artwork to safety Thursday morning, and conservators were inspecting the collection; it seemed to have escaped serious damage, museum authorities said.

Dorothy Kosinski, the museum's director, sounded upbeat in a telephone interview. "If there had been any damage to the artworks, you'd be speaking to the very upset director right now," she said. "I'm very pleased with the way all my staff performed today."

Automatic sprinklers were set off on all four floors of the museum, Piringer said, containing the fire, which was then extinguished by about 50 firefighters on the scene. No one was injured during the fire.

The building sustained moderate water damage on all four floors, Piringer said, with the top two sustaining moderate smoke damage.

Power was shut off to the building, and the museum is closed until further notice, pending a full investigation by building and fire inspectors.

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