A small but smoky fire in a corridor on the House side of the U.S. Capitol forced authorities to evacuate tourists yesterday and close the building several hours early.
The fire, which was reported a few minutes after 5 p.m., sent dense smoke and soot swirling through the ground floor corridor that links the center section of the Capitol with the House Wing.
The blaze apparently started in a fluorescent light fixture, according to D.C. Fire Department fire inspector James D. Evans.
The fixture was mounted in the underside of the cornice of a drape-and-curtain-shielded window on the west side of the House restaurant.
The fixture, curtain and drapery were destroyed and two of the window panes broken, said Ural T. Ward, the Capitol's supervising engineer.
Capitol police officers played chemical fire extinguishers on the blaze and the relatively few visitors in the building at the time were evacuated, mainly, according to authorities, because of the smoke. The building, scheduled to remain open until 10 p.m., was closed.
Two Capitol police officers were treated at Providence Hospital for possible inhalation of smoke or fumes and were released.
D.C. firefighters and Capitol employes used fans to exhaust the smoke from the corridor, just north of the Hall of Columns, and cleaned up the powdery residue left by the fire extinguisher chemicals.
The building is expected to open on schedule today at 9 a.m.