Page last updated at 16:41 GMT, Monday, 18 May 2009 17:41 UK

EU offices evacuated due to fire


Smoke could be seen rising above the roof of the building

Hundreds of people have been evacuated after a fire broke out in the basement of the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, officials say.

A BBC correspondent near the Berlaymont building saw thick smoke pouring from the roof. A dozen fire engines rushed to the scene, along with ambulances.

Brussels firefighters say the fire was confined to a vertical shaft housing cables. It spread up from the basement.

Nobody was hurt and the evacuation was orderly, a commission spokesman said.

The blaze began at about 1250 local time (1050 GMT). It was most intense on the 13th floor, but did not spread to offices, a spokesman for the fire service said.

The Berlaymont, a four-pronged glass and steel structure in central Brussels, has 18 floors and offices for some 3,000 EU officials. The commission, the EU's executive arm, drafts EU laws.

I could see the smoke in the corridors, and about 20 minutes later people were told verbally to leave the building. But there was no fire alarm
Darren Ennis, Reuters journalist

The alarm was first sounded on the 13th floor, and commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was working there at the time, commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger told reporters.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday evening, the officials said the cause of the fire was not yet clear. The blaze was put out at about 1640 (1440 GMT).

Firefighters equipped with breathing apparatus are now checking the building from top to bottom, using thermal imaging kit. More than 40 firefighters took part in the operation.

Thick smoke

Officials said the building was evacuated within minutes of the alarm being raised.

Clouds of thick black smoke, smelling strongly of burnt oil, were later seen rising from the roof of the building, the BBC's Dominic Hughes says.

Journalists working in the press room, known as "the bunker", said they had noticed a steady build-up of smoke for 20 minutes before then, but that the smoke detectors had failed to react.

"There was a lot of smoke. The internal security and fire marshals were running around, trying to find the source of the fire. It smelled horrible and wasn't like a gas smell," said Darren Ennis of the Reuters news agency.

"I could see the smoke in the corridors, and about 20 minutes later people were told verbally to leave the building. But there was no fire alarm. After we left, I saw commission President [Jose Manuel] Barroso leave."

"A commission spokesperson said the fire probably started in the basement. There's lots of printing, paper and store rooms down there. The smoke would have gone up the ventilation system to the roof," he added.

Commission staff are now working from commission offices elsewhere in Brussels, Mr Laitenberger said. "We can't say when it [the Berlaymont] will be reopened," he added.

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MEP Seats

  Votes MEPs
Party % +/- % Total +/-
EPP 33.4 -1.4 264 -18
Socialists 23.2 -4.1 183 -26
Liberal 11.0 +1.6 84 +5
Green 7.4 +1.3 50 +9
Left 5.3 -0.6 34 -2
UEN 3.4 +1.6 28 +2
Ind/Dem 2.7 -1.8 21 -15
No Group 13.6 +3.4 72 +3.4
0 of 27 countries declared.

UK Total MEP Seats

Party Votes MEPs
% +/- % Total +/-
CON 27.7 1.0 *26 1
UKIP 16.5 0.3 13 1
LAB 15.7 -6.9 13 -5
LD 13.7 -1.2 11 1
GRN 8.6 2.4 2 0
BNP 6.2 1.3 2 2
SNP 2.1 0.7 2 0
PC 0.8 -0.1 1 0
OTH 8.5 2.4 0 0
SF 1 0
DUP 1 0
72 of 72 seats declared. Vote share figures exclude Northern Ireland as it has a separate electoral system to the rest of the UK
* Includes UCUNF MEP elected in Northern Ireland
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