Fire on White House grounds

Thick smoke billowed from a fire Wednesday in Vice President Dick Cheney’s suite of offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House.

Cheney’s office, known for its historical furnishings and ornate decorations, was damaged by smoke and water from fire hoses, officials said. There was concern about water damage to the floor, made of mahogany, white maple and cherry and considered to be very delicate.

The adjacent office of the vice president’s political director, Amy Whitelaw, was heavily damaged by fire, said Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride.

The vice president was not in the building at the time; he was in the West Wing of the White House with President Bush.

More than 1,000 people who work in the building were evacuated as the second through the fifth floor of the building filled with smoke. The fire broke out on the second floor of the building about 9:15 a.m. and was under control within a half hour, District of Columbia fire department spokesman Alan Etter said.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said the blaze appeared to have started in an electrical closet or a telephone bank.

The building was reopened Wednesday afternoon and Cheney walked through to see the damage. The set of offices contains the vice president’s ceremonial office, used for meetings and press interviews, and the offices of his staff. His primary office is across West Executive Avenue in the West Wing.

Earlier, Bush and Cheney appeared on West Executive Avenue, between the White House and the damaged building, to thank District of Columbia firefighters. A fire tanker nearby still had its ladder extended to a window on the blackened second floor.

District of Columbia firefighters poured water on the blaze, broke windows and moved furniture onto a balcony.

There were no reports of serious injuries, Etter said. A U.S. Marine stationed at the building smashed a fifth-floor window to escape from the smoke and had to be rescued from the ledge, he said. The man suffered a minor cut to his hand.

The extent of water, fire and smoke damage was unclear.

Investigators were working to determine the cause of the blaze, Etter said.

Since 1960, Cheney’s office has been occupied by every vice president from Lyndon B. Johnson, with the exception of Hubert Humphrey, who used a room on the floor below. Since its restoration in the 1980s, it has been considered a “ceremonial” office.

It contains a desk first used by Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 and later by Presidents Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Truman and Eisenhower. The inside of the top drawer has been signed by the various users since the 1940s.

The Executive Office Building, a commanding structure with a granite, slate and cast iron exterior at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street, houses the Office of Management and Budget and staff of the National Security Council and other agencies.