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Fire Sweeps Through Caracas High-Rise

October 17, 2004

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ A fire burned its way up one of Venezuela’s tallest buildings on Sunday, injuring at least 25 firefighters and prompting the evacuation of nearby residences and businesses amid fears that the tower might collapse, officials said.

Efforts to extinguish the blaze were hampered by the fact that water pumps were not working properly and the building was not equipped with fire extinguishers, fire chief Rodolfo Briceno said.

``There is a problem because the building is made of steel. Because of the high temperatures, the structure could collapse,″ Information Minister Jesse Chacon told President Hugo Chavez during his weekly radio and television show.

The blaze already had caused heavy damage inside the building and some of the staircases had collapsed, Chacon said.

The fire started about midnight on the 34th floor of the 56-story high-rise _ one of the twin towers of the Parque Central complex, which houses public offices and ministries, in downtown Caracas, Briceno said.

Plumes of black smoke rose from the building Sunday afternoon as the fire spread over 26 floors, reaching the roof.

The high temperatures stopped firefighters from reaching the tower’s upper floors, where the fire was strongest. Military troops and rescue teams were brought in to help and military helicopters flew overhead, dropping water on the tower.

Twenty-five firefighters were injured when they inhaled poisonous gases, fire officials said. Briceno did not say what might have caused the fire.

More than 100 paintings and sculptures in the contemporary art museum next to the tower were put into a vault for safety, a museum official said.

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