Fire damages Legislative Hall, building evacuated

A Little Creek Volunteer Fire Company firefighter steps down a ladder in the front of Legislative Hall in Dover on Wednesday. A fire in the north wing of the building resulted in smoke and water damage on three floors. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

A Little Creek Volunteer Fire Company firefighter steps down a ladder in the front of Legislative Hall in Dover on Wednesday. A fire in the north wing of the building resulted in smoke and water damage on three floors. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

DOVER — A Wednesday afternoon fire in Legislative Hall resulted in the building being evacuated and dozens of firefighters being dispatched to the state capitol.

Dover Fire Chief Mark Hall said the north side of the building sustained “extensive” damage from a blaze that started either on the second floor or in a generator in the basement.

Smoke can be seen wafting out of a window at Legislative Hall on Wednesday afternoon. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

Smoke can be seen wafting out of a window at Legislative Hall on Wednesday afternoon. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

A firefighter and a Capitol Police officer suffered smoke inhalation, authorities said.

Smoke spread throughout the building and the north wing sustained water damage, as well.

Hours after the flames were snuffed out, officials and cleanup crews remained at the site.

State employees who work in the building and were allowed to re-enter once the fire had been controlled said water and smoke damage could be seen across three floors.

A reporter allowed in the building briefly about 90 minutes after the fire was extinguished saw some water damage on the second floor. A few chunks of the ceiling had fallen to the stairs, and water dripped down from above.

With the power still out, it was hard to make out details in the hallway, but tarps covered some offices and it appeared several paintings had been removed from the walls. The smell of smoke hung heavy in the air.

The cause of the fire had not been determined as of Wednesday night.

No flames could be seen from outside the building Wednesday afternoon, although smoke was witnessed pouring out from several windows.

Staffers reported smelling smoke around 1:30, but many thought little of it. At approximately 2 p.m., the building was evacuated by Capitol Police as the smoke spread. One witness described it as “acrid black smoke.”

Dover Fire Department arrived on the scene within minutes, Chief Hall said. About 12 fire trucks from Little Creek,

Camden, Magnolia and Dover fire departments responded within the next two hours. Cheswold and Bowers Beach

Members of the Little Creek Fire Company stand ready at a window of Legislative Hall Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

Members of the Little Creek Fire Company stand ready at a window of Legislative Hall Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

provided assistance.

Roads in the immediate vicinity of the capitol were blocked off by police.

One Capitol Police officer was transported to Kent General Hospital as a precaution for smoke inhalation. He was expected to be released a short time later, Capitol Police Chief John Horsman said at around 4 p.m. One firefighter also was treated at the scene and was able to resume his duties.

The General Assembly is not in session, meaning only a few dozen aides and others were in the capitol at the time.

Chief Hall credited Capitol Police and others for a quick response, including cutting power soon after the discovery of the flames.

“This could have been a little bit more chaotic,” he said.

After the fire was put out by 4:30, firefighters began focusing on clearing the smoke out with positive pressure fans.

The fire trucks left by 6, and most of the road blocks were lifted, although some individuals remained on the scene.

Firefighters initially attempted to salvage what they could before a team of outside professional cleaners arrived.

“We took tarps in and we took some of the paintings down that facilities management was requesting taken down and we covered them up,” Chief Hall said.

A firefighter climbs a ladder to the second floor of Legislative Hall. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

A firefighter climbs a ladder to the second floor of Legislative Hall. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

He added they also attempted to block offices with tarps to limit water damage.

Still, he estimated it would be an “extensive” cleanup.

Firefighters also cut a hole in the roof to provide ventilation for an attic fire.

The north wing contains offices for House Republicans in the basement and House Democrats on the first and second floors. The offices of several lawmakers and staffers appeared to have been impacted by the smoke and water.

The building, which has housed the state’s legislature since 1933, holds many historic paintings, some of which apparently sustained major damage.

After being led outside, staffers milled around nearby for several hours. Some curious state employees who work elsewhere on Legislative Mall wandered over.

At approximately 3:30, staffers were allowed to briefly re-enter the building to grab any items they needed.

The building will be closed today, said Lori Christiansen, director of Legislative Council.

At 6 p.m., most of the firefighters had gone. Police officers, members of the Dover fire marshal’s office and cleaners remained, working to determine the extent of the damage and clear as much of the mess as was immediately possible.

One cleanup worker noted they were in for a long job.

The city fire marshal continues to investigate, Dover Public Affairs and Emergency Management Coordinator Kay Sass said in a statement issued at approximately 7:30 p.m.

Some nearby roads will have limited access today, she said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment