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Breaking News

Firefighters Evacuate Buckingham Palace

Aired June 02, 2002 - 15:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: This breaking story now in Buckingham Palace where firefighters have evacuated Buckingham Palace because of a fire that is now out. No details yet on the extent of the damage. No royal family members were at the palace at the time. This comes during the four-day celebration of the Queen's golden jubilee. And we want to go now to London where our Richard Quest is with the latest there -- Richard.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, you couldn't have written this as a story. People wouldn't have believed it. In middle of the queen's golden jubilee celebrations, a fire breaks out at Buckingham Palace. Now as you rightly point out, the queen wasn't there at the time. She is at Windsor Castle where she attended church services.

Let me update you what we know. On the west side of palace, we believe between the ballroom and state apartments, probably on the fourth floor, a fire broke out, the cause and severity of which we do not know. We then saw at least 12 fire engines, fire trucks, go through the main arch of the palace. They went through -- they came through the front gate of the palace and then went into the central quadrangle. That's a good indication that the fire was in the public areas, if you like. It was in the formal part where things like the ballroom, the throne room, the state rooms are.

We then saw, from pictures from the west of the palace, which is just on the left from where I am, we saw the first signs of smoke. There were other pictures of flames coming from within the palace. And fire engines and fire trucks and firemen were climbing ladders to put the fire out.

Since then we've seen the crowds, there were several thousand people milling outside of the palace, Fredricka. They were, of course, celebrating the golden jubilee. And the police have now cleared the entire area, right the way up the mall to toward Trafalgar Square.

So Fredricka, it looks like the fire is out. We don't know the cause or how much damage was caused. The question will become now, will the concert -- the pop concert -- the famous -- the big event, if you like, of the golden jubilee will that take place. My bet, Fredricka, is that it will take an enormous amount for the queen to cancel that event on Monday night. WHITFIELD: So, Richard, that concert -- that event scheduled for tomorrow night, what kind of preparations might have been taking place in Buckingham Palace today and possibly in that area, in that east gallery area where this fire seemed to be concentrated?

QUEST: Right. Several events could have been taking place. First of all, you've obviously got the pop concert itself but we know that the stage is already built. We've heard rehearsals all afternoon from various artists. So it's unlikely to have been from that part of the proceedings.

Perhaps more interestingly, the fireworks that are due to be set off tomorrow night for the first time that they're letting off fireworks from the roof of the palace. That possibly could have been a contributing factor. They've been wiring all that in today and been setting up the necessary equipment to set the fireworks up.

In addition, we've also, of course, they've been putting extra flood lighting in and different rises of lights and that sort of thing. That could be an electrical. And you know, it could be as something as simple as an electrical fire or a loose cigarette from somebody who shouldn't have been smoking somewhere where they were on the roof.

We just don't know. We don't think the damage is too serious simply by virtue of the speed by which the firemen were on the scene and the speed in which the fire is out. The fire is now out but we haven't seen any fire truck leaving. As night falls here in London, we know that there are 12 fire trucks in the palace along with a couple of ambulances. We don't believe that people have been allowed back into the palace yet. And we're just waiting for official confirmation of what happens. I mean, you know, one hesitates to say this, but you really couldn't have written this part of the script for a fire to take place at Buckingham Palace on the same weekend, the biggest weekend in decades, for the queen and the monarchy in Britain.

WHITFIELD: And thankfully, Richard, no royal family members were inside the palace. Now the evacuations that took place were successful according to officials. About how many people, how many workers then in the palace had to be evacuated?

QUEST: Well to give you an idea. There would be normally between say four and 600 people who work in the palace. That would be a combination of what they call royal households, private secretaries, assistance private secretaries, all the way down to what they -- they don't call them servants, they call them staff. The house maid, the butler, the valets, the cooks, the chefs, those sort of people, the people that make the palace operate. Now that's what you would expect on a normal day, between four to 600 people. What -- there were probably be considerably more because of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) operation these concerts. Those people doing the catering for 12,000 people for instance. So we don't know how many. It would have been in the hundreds.

WHITFIELD: All right, Richard Quest, from London, thank you very much for that update. So once again, if you're just now joining us, the fire that was at Buckingham Palace in London is now out. There were about 400 to at least 600 people says our Richard Quest that were evacuated. No royal family remembers were in the palace at the time. And this taking place just a day before Buckingham Palace will be the site of a big pops concert tomorrow evening in celebration of Queen Elizabeth the II's golden jubilee celebration of her 50 years in reign there.

We'll be updating you on the situation as we get information in terms of the cause of that fire and the extent of injuries. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at CNN Center.