Rooftop Fire Disrupts Morning Routine on Eye Street

Posted March 29, 2011 at 5:43pm

A fire atop the 10-story Franklin Building on Tuesday morning forced lawyers and lobbyists to abandon their desks and set up shop outside for about an hour.

Nobody was injured when an HVAC cooling tower on the roof of 1401 Eye St. NW caught fire. The blaze caused an estimated $100,000 worth of damage, according to the District of Columbia Fire Department.

Jim Kahl of the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice, which occupies three floors of the building, said he smelled the fire about five minutes before the alarms went off.

“I’m normally in the business of putting out their fires,” said Kahl, who advises lobbying firms and trade organizations about political ethics. “But I guess today the D.C. Fire Department had to throw cold water on the lawyers and lobbyists themselves.”

Some of his colleagues were in the middle of phone calls when the alarms sounded. “It’s not often you get to say to a client, ‘Excuse me, but the building’s on fire. I’ve really got to go,’ and then resume the call from the park,” Kahl said.

The building’s other occupants include the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the lobbying unit of Chevron Corp. and the public affairs office of CF Industries, a fertilizer manufacturing and distribution company.

Evacuees were herded into Franklin Park, then moved farther away when police cordoned off the area.

Ashley Creel, the office coordinator for the think tank Technology Policy Institute, said the evacuation lasted about an hour and the fire was a bit scary.

“I’m sitting at my desk and I hear the little ‘whoop whoop’ from outside the building. I thought maybe the next building over had done some sort of fire evacuation,” she said. “As soon as I walk into [a co-worker’s] office, I see this huge pillar of smoke coming from the reflection of the other building and I ran into the hall saying, ‘The building is on fire, we’ve got to get out.’”