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Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Theatre safe after West End fire
Fire fighters tackle the blaze
A large fire which engulfed two buildings and threatened to spread to London's Theatre Royal has been extinguished.

More than 50 fire fighters managed to control the fire which burned for over four hours, closing roads and filling the West End with smoke.

It is believed to have started in the basement of an empty building in Haymarket at 0330 BST and spread throughout all five floors and through a three-storey building next door.

At its height it threatened to spread to the 200-year-old Theatre Royal, where actresses Maggie Smith and Judi Dench were rehearsing for a new show on Thursday.

I am very relieved and delighted that we are still here

Theatre chairman, Arnold Crook

But the theatre was saved by the office block next door, used as an employment centre for the homeless, which acted as a barrier.

Theatre Royal chairman Arnold Crook told BBC London: "I am very, very relieved and delighted that we are still here and ready to perform our new production which they are just setting up today."

Haymarket, surrounding streets and Leicester Square Tube station were shut for some time.

One lane has been opened in each direction on Haymarket, although Charles II Street remained closed on Thursday afternoon.

The fire
Flames burst through the windows
Smoke engulfed the area, spreading as far as Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross.

There have been no reports of anyone being injured or trapped inside.

Gas and fire officials are investigating the cause of the fire.

Eyewitness Ben Dome told BBC London: "Initially you could just see smoke coming round the corners.

"But as you got closer there was quite a few fire engines, and flames coming out of the second floor window.

"At one point it was quite fierce."

It is not known how the fire started and police say they are keeping an open mind.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC London's Julie Gatenby
"Thick, acrid smoke hung over the Theatre Royal this morning."

Click here to go to BBC London Online
See also:

12 Sep 02 | England
11 Sep 02 | Business
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