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European Commission Fire Forces Evacuation

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BRUSSELS — A four-hour fire at the European Union's landmark Commission headquarters Monday sent the EU's top officials scurrying down 13 floors of stairs to safety and forced the evacuation of a few thousand bureaucrats and visitors.

Officials said the fire likely started in the basement archive before heat and gases raced upward through a wire shaft to the executive floors where EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and his fellow commissioners were at work in their offices.

Brussels Fire Dept. spokesman Francis Boileau said the blaze started at lunchtime and 40 firefighters needed all afternoon to get it under control. He said no one was injured and "no major damage" had been discovered.

Police said it did not appear to be criminal in origin.

Part of the problem was that firefighters had trouble getting to the fire itself.

"A lot of doors were locked out of security, so it was not that easy to reach the right location where the fire was," said Boileau.

Dark smoke was seen billowing from the roof of the executive floor of the European Commission headquarters, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of workers and visitors.

Almost a dozen fire trucks were dispatched, and a helicopter swooped overhead. Special squads were still checking the iconic star-shaped building close to the center of Brussels into the evening, looking for hot spots that could re-ignite the fire.

It was unclear whether the building would be open for business on Tuesday, and Barroso and 26 other EU commissioners moved to other EU buildings in the city to set up temporary offices to ensure EU work could continue uninterrupted, said EU spokesman Johannes Laitenberger.

The day-to-day running of the EU is conducted at the Commission building, which also is home to numerous conferences and high-level meetings between diplomats.

On any given day, some 2,000 bureaucrats, journalists and visitors are in the building.

The Commission building, known as the Berlaymont, was a model of 1960s architecture when it was built. The four-winged structure was reopened in 2004 after a 13-year renovation.

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Associated Press writer Constant Brand contributed to this article.