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Fire damages Cheney's ceremonial offices near White House

Email|Print| Text size + By Terence Hunt
Associated Press / December 20, 2007

WASHINGTON - A fire yesterday damaged Vice President Dick Cheney's ceremonial suite of offices in the historic Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House.

Cheney's office, known for its historical furnishings and ornate decorations, was damaged by smoke and water from fire hoses, officials said. There was concern about water damage to the floor, which is made of mahogany, white maple, and cherry, and considered very delicate.

The adjacent office of the vice president's political director, Amy Whitelaw, was heavily damaged by fire, said Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride.

At the time of the fire, the vice president was in the West Wing of the White House with President Bush.

More than 1,000 workers fled the building when the second through the fifth floors filled with smoke. The fire broke out on the second floor about 9:15 a.m. and was under control within a half hour, said Alan Etter, spokesman for the District of Columbia fire department.

The cause was under investigation, but Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, said the blaze appeared to have started in an electrical closet or a telephone bank.

There were no reports of serious injuries, Etter said. A Marine stationed at the building smashed a fifth-floor window to escape the smoke and was rescued from the ledge, he said. The man suffered a minor cut to his hand.

The extent of water, fire, and smoke damage was not determined.

The building was reopened yesterday afternoon and Cheney walked through to see the damage. The set of offices contains the vice president's ceremonial office, used for meetings and press interviews, and the offices of his staff. His primary office is across West Executive Avenue in the West Wing.

Earlier, Bush and Cheney appeared on West Executive Avenue, between the White House and the damaged building, to thank firefighters. A firetruck nearby still had its ladder extended to a window on the blackened second floor.

Firefighters poured water on the blaze, broke windows, and moved furniture onto a balcony.

Every vice president since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1960 has occupied the office, with the exception of Hubert Humphrey, who used a room on the floor below.

Since a restoration in the 1980s, it has been considered a ceremonial office.

It contains a desk first used by Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 and later by Presidents Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Truman, and Eisenhower. The inside of the top drawer has been signed by the various users since the 1940s.

The Executive Office Building, a commanding structure with a granite, slate, and cast iron exterior at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street, houses the Office of Management and Budget as well as staff of the National Security Council and other agencies.

Officials said there was no indication of terrorism.

There have been numerous security scares since Washington was targeted in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

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