New Orleans firefighters respond to building fire on Canal Street

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Firefighters battled a commercial building fire early Wednesday morning on Canal Street in downtown New Orleans.

A stubborn six-alarm fire blanketed part of downtown New Orleans in eye-stinging smoke early Wednesday and forced the closure of historic Canal Street between the city's central business district and the French Quarter.

The blaze broke out in a largely empty four-story building and spread to an adjacent building. Flames were no longer visible and smoke had greatly diminished by daybreak, but firefighters kept steady streams of water pouring onto the structures from ladder trucks and from the street.

The fire was declared under control shortly before noon. City officials said they hoped to open at least some lanes of the closed stretch of Canal in the afternoon.

Earlier, structural damage to the buildings was so bad that firefighters were withdrawn from the interiors. "A collapse is definitely a concern," fire chief Timothy McConnell said.

Ground-floor businesses, including a cellphone repair shop and a beauty supply store, were closed when the fire was reported about 3:20 a.m., and only one person in the building at the time, McConnell said.

No injuries were reported, and no evacuations were ordered. But some nervous residents of an apartment building around the corner decided to get out amid acrid smoke and temperatures in the 40s.

Resident Michael Mallin said fire alarms in the apartment building went off about 3:30 a.m.

"They told us it was safe to stay," neighbor Kate Otto said. "We decided we needed to get out."

The scene is around the corner from the tony Roosevelt Hotel. It's near upscale apartment buildings and the Orpheum and the Saenger, ornate early 20th century theaters that were restored to their earlier grandeur after Hurricane Katrina.

But the fire site itself was a largely unused building on a rundown block. "This is a stretch of Canal Street that has not yet seen the level of revitalization of the rest of Canal Street," said Kurt Weigel, president of the Downtown Development District.

The cause of the fire was under investigation. The firefighting effort and cleanup were expected to keep the broad boulevard, which includes streetcar lines, closed throughout the day. Commuters were urged to avoid the area, and buses were put into service to make up for the loss of part of one streetcar route.
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