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London buildings evacuated and West End cancelled after fire broke out underground


Firefighters tackle a blaze in central London April 1. Reuters/Toby Melville

Firefighters tackle a blaze in central London April 1. Reuters/Toby Melville

Firefighters tackle a blaze in central London April 1. Reuters/Toby Melville

An underground electrical fire in central London which caused "pavements to explode" and led to the evacuation of more than 2,000 people and the closure of West End shows is now under control, the fire brigade has said.

Crews fought to stop the spread of the blaze, which began among cables in a service tunnel under the pavement of Kingsway in Holborn - a major three-lane road though the city.

The alarm was raised after thick black smoke and flames were seen rising from drains around lunchtime today.

Police declared a major incident and at its peak around 70 fiefighters and 10 engines were at the scene.

Judges and lawyers at the Royal Courts of Justice were among the thousands to spill on to the streets after the evacuation, while The Lion King and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory were both forced to cancel this evening's performances.

Meanwhile, a Westminster City Council cabinet member said "exploding pavements" were a "worrying trend" and demanded "better investment in the capital's infrastructure".

The cause of the fire is unknown.

London Fire Brigade said firefighters contained the blaze within the service tunnel, used for electrical cables, once the power supply was isolated and that no buildings were affected.

Around 21 firefighters are expected to remain at the scene into the night.

Onlookers reported "chaos" as people gathered on the streets and others said they "struggled to breathe" as the sky filled with "acrid smoke".

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Passer-by Nicola Foxfield, 29, said: "I could smell burning in the air.

"As I got closer I could see fire engines everywhere, then I could see loads of thick, brown smoke rising off the road.

"It's chaos and fire engines are coming from every direction and there are so many people around."

Another witness said he "struggled to breathe" as smoke seeped through the drains as he walked along Aldwych, at the bottom of Kingsway.

He said: "I was close enough to see thick black smoke puffing out of the drain grilles and I struggled to breathe.

"Hundreds of people were leaving their buildings on Fleet Street and Kingsway."

Office workers were left waiting on the streets, while nearby shops and cafes were plunged into darkness.

Hundreds of people were also left disappointed when nearby West End shows were forced to close their doors for the night.

A statement on The Lion King's website: "Due to circumstances beyond our control, tonight's performance of Disney's The Lion King was not able to go ahead. We apologise for any inconvenience caused."

Richard Beddoe, a Westminster City Council cabinet member, said: "We do not yet know what caused the fire in Holborn on Wednesday; however, pavements have exploded in central London previously and it is a very worrying trend.

"Our message remains the same - we want to see better investment in the capital's infrastructure, as it benefits the whole UK."

The LFB said there have been no reports of injuries in today's incident.

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