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Commuters Flee Smoke in London Station Near Scene of Disaster

November 22, 1987|From Times Wire Services

LONDON — Smoke detected on an escalator Saturday sent commuters scurrying from a rail and subway station near the King's Cross station, where 30 people died in an inferno four days earlier, officials said.

Police also said they believed they pinpointed the cause of the King's Cross fire, which could have been smoldering for up to two hours before it erupted midway up a wooden escalator. But authorities declined to disclose details until they could be "absolutely sure," a detective said.

Police and fire officials declined Saturday to confirm speculation that the cause of the fire had been traced to overheated bearings in one of the escalators.

Arson was not suspected, police said, but they indicated no announcement would be made before an inquest begins next Tuesday.

On Saturday afternoon, Euston Station was ordered evacuated after commuters reported smelling smoke on an escalator linking the station's main concourse with the subway ticket area, authorities said.

Report of 'Smoldering'

A London Transport spokeswoman said "smoldering" had been reported at the top of the escalator. The escalator was closed off and passengers escorted to another exit, she added.

No fire was found and no injuries were reported as 200 commuters quickly left. The station was closed for about 15 minutes, but the escalator itself was cordoned off into the evening as experts sought the source of the smoke.

Subway service was not disrupted, the spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, newspapers in London said there was mounting evidence that subway employees failed to heed warnings from passengers about a smoldering fire that burst into Wednesday's inferno at King's Cross station.

Transport Secretary Paul Channon acknowledged that commuters had warned employees about smoke up to an hour before the fireball erupted, but gave no indication what action was taken.

London Underground Ltd., the subway arm of government-owned London Regional Transport, has declined comment on possible causes of the fire and the actions of its staff pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

But in response to earlier allegations, London Underground chairman Tony Ridley said the inquiry team would be investigating reports of the failure to respond.

Saturday's incident triggered another round of jitters in a city still horrified by the King's Cross disaster, the worst subway fire in British history. Like King's Cross, nearby Euston is one of the city's busiest stations, served by British Rail as well as two subway lines.

Fire officials disclosed that one of the dead in Wednesday's fire, male nurse Laurence Newcombe, 27, of Colchester, England, had been exposed to the AIDS virus--acquired immunity deficiency syndrome--and that firefighters from 15 stations had been advised to see their doctors for check-ups.

But, said one brigade official, there was only a "remote chance" that any of the firefighters had been infected and that the advice to seek medical attention was "purely precautionary." Experts believe AIDS is spread by exchange of body fluids and the nurse had been burned in the fire.

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