MOSCOW — Soviet firefighters escorted by Americans extinguished a fire Wednesday in the U.S. Embassy, the aging building the United States has been unable to abandon because of bugging devices that permeate a new structure.
About 150 embassy employees were evacuated and sent home for the day, embassy spokesman Richard Gilbert said. No one was injured.
U.S. Embassy officials said Soviet firefighters were called to put out the fire in an unoccupied fifth-floor residential section after they decided embassy personnel couldn't extinguish it on their own.
The Soviets responded promptly and were "escorted at all times by American employees" inside the building, said Gilbert, who briefed reporters in the wet snow outside the mustard-colored embassy's main door after the fire had been brought under control.
The 10-story embassy building, on busy Tchaikovsky Street near the center of Moscow, has been the source of controversy for more than a year.
Last spring, U.S. officials said they had determined that a new eight-story red-brick office building directly behind the old one could not be occupied immediately because of Soviet listening devices apparently installed during construction.
The $191-million structure already was five years behind schedule at the time. Proposals have included razing part or all of the new structure, or building a new office to house communications and secret operations.
U.S. Reps. Daniel A. Mica (D-Fla.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Me.) said in April that the old embassy building rented by the United States since the early 1950s was a "firetrap and unsafe by accepted standards for general working conditions."
A renovation of the building has been under way since then.
Gilbert said the fire "might be construction related," although its cause has not been determined.