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New Miami Arena Catches Fire

A downtown arena under construction for the NBA's Miami Heat caught fire Friday, sending clouds of thick, black smoke billowing across the city's waterfront skyline.

Flames could be seen shooting from wooden construction material on part of the uppermost section of the partially completed $165 million facility.

At least 10 fire trucks and 30-35 firefighters were at the site near Biscayne Bay, across Biscayne Boulevard from downtown skyscrapers.

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It wasn't known what caused the fire or whether it might significantly delay construction, Miami Police Lt. David Payne said. No injuries were immediately reported.

"They had a welder working up there around 3 o'clock. That may have sparked something," Payne said as firefighters struggled to get water up to burning planks at least seven or eight stories high.

The highest ladders reach only 100 feet and the fire was still out of reach, Miami fire Capt. Joe Fernandez said.

"We have to be very careful, and not have firefighters falling down shaftways," Fernandez said. "We are also having difficulty because of the height of the arena."

Shaftways running up and down the concrete structure are future elevator shafts. Concrete stairways had not yet been poured.

A Miami-Dade County firefighting helicopter was called in to dump water on the fire.

There was no fear of a structural collapse because the burning wood planks were in place to form molds to pour concrete on top of steel reinforcing rods, Fernandez said.

Arena Fire
The partly completed $165 million American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami caught fire Friday the 13th. (AP)

"There was fuel up there in form of form boards," he said.

The arena is due to open in December 1999 on the prime waterfront, 14-acre site. It is only six blocks from the Heat's currenhome, 10-year-old Miami Arena.

The heat's new home was approved by voters in a referendum in November 1996. Heat owner Micky Arison will contribute $50 million to the project, with hotel tax revenue covering most of the rest.

© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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