Panic as fire breaks out at top of Eiffel Tower

A SMALL fire near the top of the Eiffel Tower was extinguished shortly after erupting yesterday, Paris police said. The fire caused panic among tourists but no injuries.

The fire was out at around 8pm local time, just 40 minutes after it was reported, said fire official Christian Decolloredo. It appeared to originate among a knot of cables in a telecommunications room.

Decolloredo said the fire occurred on a floor accessible to tourists. Earlier, the company that operates the Eiffel Tower said the fire broke out on an upper level where technical installations are located and not accessible to the public.

Thick grey smoke began to taper off shortly after the fire was reported. Fire trucks and rescue vehicles rushed to the base of the tower.

A stream of about 150 visitors filed out after being evacuated, firefighters said.

Jean-Paul Proust, the Paris police chief, said the evacuation took place in absolute calm. "The fire is out, it was a fire in a telecommunications room," he said. "I can't give you the cause."

Decolloredo said an investigation was under way. The tower was temporarily closed, but he could not say for how long.

A red helicopter swooped around the tower, inspecting the lower floors. Police blocked off access as tourists waited on the grass below, taking photographs or peering up through binoculars. Some of those who fled the tower were visibly shaken.

"I was at the top level with a friend of mine, and we started smelling some kind of bad smell," said tourist Ivan Dosso, an Ivory Coast native who now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Eiffel Tower staff quickly directed him and others to the stairs leading to the exit, and he rushed down.

"I'm so distraught," Dosso said. "I'm glad they were able to stop it."

The 324-metre (1,069-feet) iron-laced tower draws six million visitors a year, making it the world's most popular paying tourist attraction. The tower was built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World's Fair.

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