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Gas Line Cut by Workers Blamed in Blaze Half a Mile From White House

October 08, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A downtown street beside a major hospital was set ablaze by a gas fire Tuesday, snarling traffic for blocks and leading to a partial evacuation of the medical facility.

The street runs between the new George Washington University Hospital building and the old hospital, which is being demolished. A gas line serving the old building apparently was ruptured during the work.

The old building, about half a mile from the White House, is where President Reagan was taken after he was shot in 1981. The new hospital building opened about a year ago.

"The fires were tracking across the roadway, the whole area was engulfed in flames," said Paul Stabler, 43, an irrigation contractor from Gaithersburg, Md.

Officials suggested that a car driving by provided the spark for the fire. The driver, who came to the emergency room, had minor injuries and was taken to another hospital, the officials said.

Hospital workers ordered nonessential personnel and visitors out of the complex. Patients from intensive care were moved to an area of the hospital farthest from the fire. However, operations underway at the time continued, including one open-heart surgery.

Natural gas fumes were evident in the area, including the nearby underground Foggy Bottom Metrorail station. The station was closed for several hours but trains kept running through.

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