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Madrid windsor tower burns but no collapse { February 14 2005 }

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Madrid alert after skyscraper fire
Monday, February 14, 2005 Posted: 6:02 AM EST (1102 GMT)

MADRID, Spain -- The area surrounding a burned-out Madrid skyscraper remained cordoned off Monday amid concern the blackened hulk of wreckage could collapse.

As many as 100 firefighters worked 24 hours to extinguish the blaze in the city's eighth-tallest building, the 32-story Windsor Tower. The fire was said to be the worst in Madrid's history.

"Don't Fall Down," read Monday's front-page headline on the free newspaper Que given to morning subway and bus commuters.

The office tower was heavily damaged but did not collapse as feared.

"The situation is still critical," Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon told The Associated Press.

Officials say the building is unstable and have closed the area surrounding it, in a move that could affect several thousand employees in the city's financial district.

Cars will be routed to neighboring streets, subway lines under or near the damaged building will remain shut down, and adjacent office towers will remain closed by order of the mayor, AP reported.

El Corte Ingles, Spain's signature department store, remained closed Monday and told its 2,000 employees to stay home.

"What worries us now is its structural state because of the high temperatures it was subjected to," Merardo Tudelo, director of the Madrid Municipal Firefighters, told reporters shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday (2000 GMT).

By Sunday evening, flames were no longer visible, though gray smoke and ash stoked by gusts of wind continued to pour from the blackened shell of the building.

Hours earlier, several top floors collapsed onto lower ones. Firefighter official Fernando Munilla expressed concern that the entire building -- which at about 106 meters (350 feet) high is among the 10 tallest in Madrid -- could collapse.

"If the partial collapses keep happening, it would be lying to say it's impossible that the whole building couldn't fall down," he said.

Emergency crews at the scene said firefighters were waiting for the temperature inside the building to drop, which they said would lessen the danger of collapse.

At their peak, temperatures reached 800 degrees Celsius (1,472 Fahrenheit), said Javier Sanz, head of Madrid's firefighters.

The fire left seven people slightly injured, according to AP reports.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero visited the site and said, "I wanted to thank all those people who have been working since early in the morning: firefighters, police, and all those who have thrown themselves in to help in this catastrophe."

Thousands of onlookers lined streets barred to traffic.

It was not immediately clear what caused the fire. Magdalena Alvarez, minister of development, said a short circuit may have started the fire, but it would be investigated.

Authorities said there was no reason to believe the fire was an act of terrorism.

The building was almost empty when the first alarm went off. Only one of the seven firefighters who suffered smoke inhalation remained hospitalized Sunday, Gallardon told AP.

Construction of the shiny gold Windsor Building began in 1973 and was completed in 1979. It became a landmark structure in Madrid's business district.

The building was surrounded with scaffolding because of recent repairs, and a huge crane remained perched on its roof.

CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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