The odds are pretty good that the fire started in the construction that's been going on in the building for the last year or so. It might, or might not, be an electrical fire that got lucky.
The EOB is one of those old nineteenth century buildings, with 18 foot ceilings and four-foot-thick stone walls. Quite a landmark. I hope that the architect's "fire proof" design hasn't been messed with. His building was made of stone, concrete, with some cast iron for decoration.
There's some good news here:
- The building evacuation was orderly, with people walking, not running - a good, routine, orderly process.
- The fire seems to be limited to a room or so.
- Emergency response seems to have been prompt, and thorough: Something like a dozen vehicles showed up.
Now, maybe a half-hour after this news broke on cable, the smoke coming out of the EOB is white - indicating that there's water being put on the fire. And there isn't anywhere as much smoke as before.
The fire isn't out, but it's being dealt with.
More good news:
- The fire was low-key enough so that firefighters have been able to carry some furniture out - I saw one drape something like a coffee table over a (stone) balcony. The emergency response seemed to be smooth, and by the numbers: quick, orderly, efficient - like it should be.
- And, according to Homeland Security, the fire is contained.
More facts, and opinions, as they crop up:
- About 10:15 Washington time, the report was was that Secret Service, that has offices in the building, was that Secret Service agents were preventing firefighters from getting into the building.
Reality check: five minutes later, we hear that Secret Service agents are vetting everyone who goes into the building, to make sure that they really should be there. Not a bad idea, considering how many sensitive documents are in there, and what a wonderful opportunity this would be for someone to plant a regrettable device in the EOB. Apparently, fire investigators aren't being allowed in. Not yet.
- The fire most likely started in an electrical closet near the Vice President's ceremonial office. I hope that room wasn't damaged or defaced by the fire. My guess is that it would be somewhere between difficult and impossible to fix the damage properly these days. We don't make things now, like they did over a hundred years ago. Often, for good reason.
- Details about the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, from the White House website.
- Interesting detail: The reporter I heard called it the "Executive Office Building," or EOB; For the White House, it's the "Eisenhower Executive Office Building," or EEOB.
- That "Eisenhower" part of the name comes from President Eisenhower saving the building from demolition in the fifties. The place has been due for repairs and renovation for decades: and quite a bit of it is getting worked on now.
- The EOB has been getting upgrades for a long time. In 1900, holes were drilled in the EOB's granite and ironwork to accommodate the War Department's new telephone system (this is the current Fact of the Week from the White House site). It might have been easier to tear the thing down, in the fifties, and then tear that down now, with today's technology in mind. I'm glad the old building was kept, though. I think there's a place for tradition.
- One injury: a U.S. Marine was on the fifth floor when the fire broke out. With a fire of undetermined extent between him and the ground, he quite reasonably broke out a window. With his hands. He was treated at the scene for lacerations, and refused transport to a hospital.