Thousands evacuated in massive blaze in London
Thousands of people were evacuated from buildings in central London yesterday as toxic smoke filled the streets.
The Metropolitan Police declared a "major incident" after blocks housing businesses and part of the London School of Economics were cleared by the emergency services.
As the smoke spread, Holborn Tube station was closed and the Royal Courts of Justice also had to be evacuated along with some nearby West End theatres, putting evening performances at risk of cancellation.
Firefighters said the fire started among power cables beneath the pavement in Holborn and they could not put it out until the current was switched off.
The blaze was believed to have originated in a service duct that carries gas, electric and water through the city.
The London Fire Brigade was battling the massive blaze with utility companies to find the source of the fire, which appeared to be worsening hours after it began.
Around 2,000 people were evacuated because of the smoke. Flames could be seen bursting out of manholes in a closed-off road after a gas main ruptured underground.
The air was filled with dark smoke that appeared to be streaming from underground vents. People were seen pouring out of offices, restaurants, cafés and shops while roads were cordoned off by the emergency services.
Onlookers described "crazy scenes" and "madness" as smoke rose so high in the air that it could be seen from the Shard skyscraper.
"Holborn is chaos. All the manholes on Kingsway are smoking," witness Jordan Hatch said. There have been no reports of any injuries but a witness told the BBC the air was difficult to breathe.
"I had just cycled over Waterloo Bridge and as I approached Kingsway I saw a big crowd of people and smoke billowing towards me," he said.
"The fire crews and police officers were beginning to cordon off the area. I was close enough to see thick, black smoke puffing out of the drain grills and I struggled to breathe."
Several buildings also suffered power cuts due to the blaze, forcing some companies to send staff home, and Holborn Tube station was closed.
A spokesperson for the London Fire Brigade warned that the situation could get worse until electricity companies switched off the power so firefighters could put out the flames.
"When cables burn they produce a great deal of toxic smoke and it's not safe to be playing around with live cables," he added.
The alarm was raised at around 12.40pm after smoke was seen coming out of an inspection cover on the pavement in Kingsway.