Eiffel Tower Reopens After Fire

Smoke rises from the top floor of the Eiffel tower in Paris Tuesday July 22, 2003. The 324-meter (1,069-feet) iron-laced tower draws 6 million visitors a year, making it the world's most popular paying tourist attraction
AP
The Eiffel Tower reopened Wednesday after an electrical fire broke out the night before near the top of the Paris landmark, forcing thousands of alarmed visitors to evacuate.

Officials say a short-circuit almost certainly sparked the fire, in a level above the uppermost access area for tourists, reports CBS News Correspondent Elaine Cobbe. That top observation deck was closed for a few hours Wednesday morning for cleaning.

Despite the dramatic, if not actually dangerous, incident, vacationers were lining up Wednesday to visit the world's most popular tourist site. Early morning arrivals were admitted to the two lower observation decks.

The tower's 910-foot-high third floor, where the fire occurred, opened shortly afterward, an official said.

The same portion of the tower caught fire in 1956, destroying the structure's summit.

The Tuesday evening fire, which officials said erupted in a third-floor telecommunications room, sent thick plumes of gray smoke pouring from the top of the Eiffel Tower — the highest structure in Paris' skyline.

The pre-dusk blaze occurred at the highest level accessible to tourists but in an area sealed off from the public. The fire was out within in an hour and no one was injured.

Jean-Bernard Bros, president of the company that operates the tower, said that a recently finished 18-month paint job of the monument could have fueled the fire. The repainting, which started at the base and finished up top, left freshly applied paint that was perhaps more flammable than if it were dry.

"It's because of that that it caught fire and the smoke was so impressive," Bros said, adding that there were no longer any risk to visitors.

"If the tower is open, it's because it's secure," Bros said. "We wouldn't have opened it otherwise."

As night settled Tuesday on the City of Light, the 20,000 sparkling bulbs that weave through the iron lattice work were turned on for the usual 10-minute hourly show.

Officials praised the quick work by firefighters in extinguishing the blaze. About 100 firefighters rushed to the base of the tower shortly after the fire was reported at 7:21 p.m. local time.

A stream of up to 3,000 visitors was evacuated from the tower, Bros said. Some 100 people were on the top floor, where the blaze occurred. The tower is normally open until midnight during the summer.

Jean-Paul Proust, the Paris police chief, said the fire was electrical in nature but that authorities did not know the cause. An investigation was under way.

The same portion of the tower caught fire in 1956, destroying the structure's summit.

The Eiffel Tower has had more than 200 million visitors since it opened at the Paris Exhibition in 1889. It draws 6 million visitors a year, making it the world's most popular paying tourist attraction.

One visitor Wednesday morning said the previous night's commotion made her feel a bit safer — statistically speaking.

"It's not going to happen again," said Leslie Edelman, visiting from San Francisco with her 5-year-old son. "The odds are really against it, right?"