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Small Fire Prompts Evacuation Of American Museum Of Natural History

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The American Museum of Natural History was evacuated Friday afternoon, after a small fire caused smoke to pour through a part of the iconic main building.

As CBS2's Lou Young reported, the FDNY said the fire broke out in an air conditioning unit mounted outside of the museum, between the first and second floors.

The FDNY said the filter on the air conditioning unit caught fire and sucked smoke into the building, 1010 WINS' Darius Radzius reported.

"It appears that maintenance work was using a torch on the outside, and it appears that the filters from the AC unit caught fire," said FDNY Deputy Chief Joseph Schiralli.

Smoke alarms went off at the museum around 3 p.m. and the building was evacuated.

Small Fire Prompts Evacuation Of American Museum Of Natural History

The smoke appears to have been concentrated in the Hall of Northwest Pacific Indians near the 77th Street entrance, and the smoke vented all the way up to the fourth floor, Young reported.

Firefighters did not have to charge their hoses. They did vent the smoke out of the building.

There was some damage to the Northwest Pacific Indian Hall from the museum's sprinkler system, the FDNY said.

"We're very hopeful that it's fairly minimal because there was some water, as the chief said, but we'll know more about that tomorrow," the museum's senior vice president Anne Canty told reporters, including WCBS 880's Marla Diamond.

Small Fire Prompts Evacuation Of American Museum Of Natural History

There were no reports of injuries.

Photos from the scene showed white smoke coming from ground-level windows.

American Museum Of Natural History Fire
The American Museum of Natural History was evacuated Friday, Dec. 12, due to a fire. (Credit: Robert Keus/Twitter)

There were thousands of visitors and employees in the building at the time. They described what they saw.

"Just in the room waiting for the 3D shark film to start, and the woman in the back of the room just said, 'Evacuate; fire,' and we were close to an exit so we just left," one man said.

"There was smoke everywhere, and you could smell the fire. It was pretty big," a woman said.

"We came out of an exhibit, and I said, 'Do you smell smoke,' and she said, 'I do,' and then the alarms went off and guards started running, and people said, 'You have to be evacuated,'" another woman said.

The museum normally gets between 8,000 and 10,000 people per day, CBS2's Young reported. The museum is popular with school groups, but they are normally out of the building by 3 p.m.

About 3,000 to 5,000 people were in the museum at the time of the fire. All evacuated without incident.

All evening programs at the museum were canceled Friday. The museum was to reopen Saturday morning.

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