March 1, 2000
Statement on Records Center Fire, National Archives and Records Administration
Yesterday (Tuesday, February 29), the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) reported a fire in its Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland. The fire was contained by the Center's fire-safety system and extinguished with no reports of harm to staff or visitors, but some records were damaged. The following is an update on that from Archivist of the United States John Carlin.
Although much work will be needed before we can be certain, we believe that of the total of more than 3.7 million cubic feet of records at Suitland, approximately 3,000 cubic feet were in the immediate area. Of those, fewer than 300 cubic feet may have been destroyed. Most of the affected records were wet or damp from sprinkler water or in singed boxes. Our staff at Suitland stayed up through last night making valiant efforts to protect records from water damage and otherwise dealing with the fire's effects, working with personnel from the General Services Administration, from which we lease the facility.
The cause of the fire is as yet undetermined. Because the property is Federal, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as well as GSA fire investigators were notified. As the investigation continues, the following is what we know about the fire so far.
The sprinkler alarms were activated at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, and alerted the GSA Control Center that there was a problem. The first fire company arrived sometime between 2:45 and 2:50. A fireman on the scene was overcome with smoke at which point firemen abandoned Stack 15 to open the roof hatches to vent the smoke. This process apparently took approximately one hour to accomplish before the firemen returned to Stack 15 to begin to extinguish the fire. The sprinkler system contained the fire during the period between 2:30 and 3:50 at which point the firemen were able to enter the stack. At 8:13 p.m. the firemen on the scene felt that the fire was sufficiently extinguished to allow the investigation to begin in the stack.
Our tracking system enabled us to identify the records on the shelves affected by the fire, and agencies whose records may have been affected have been notified. But we won't be able to identify exactly which records have been affected and how seriously until the investigation of the area is completed and we can examine the materials more closely.
I will provide further information as it becomes available.
JOHN W. CARLIN
Archivist of the United States
For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or by e-mail.