Fire at Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh sends smoke throughout building

PITTSBURGH — A smoky fire burned Wednesday morning at the Gulf Tower in downtown Pittsburgh after a transformer blew in the basement of the skyscraper on Grant Street, public safety officials said.

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The fire was contained to the basement, but the building was evacuated as smoke made its way throughout. Smoke was seen coming from the top of the building because of a ventilation shaft, something fire officials said is supposed to happen.

“For me, honestly, I was sort of reflective about what it must have felt like during 9/11. That’s what I thought about as I was going down the stairs, Liz Parker said.

Parker works on the 33rd floor. She said she knew something was up when the lights started flickering.

“Then there was an announcement that there was a fire emergency and we could not use the elevator,” Parker said.

Complicating evacuations was a power outage to half the building, which caused some elevators to stop working, officials said. Firefighters went floor-to-floor inside the 44-story building to ensure everyone was out.

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Paramedics were on standby, but no injuries were reported.

There are a lot of wires in the basement, which officials said contributed to how much smoke was generated by the fire. Just after 11:30 a.m., the fire was declared under control by Pittsburgh’s fire chief.

“You can imagine a basement, high concrete walls, high temps from the fire. It’s like being in an oven,” Fire Chief Darryl Jones said.

Fire crews emerging from the building were hosing each other down, something done for a very specific reason.

“The oils inside the transformer are a contaminate. Some of it is known to be carcinogens. So what you saw us doing was gross decontamination. It is our policy that once they get back to the station, their gear will be bagged up and sent down to our fire warehouse to be cleaned,” Jones said.

People were told to avoid Seventh Street between Grant Street and William Penn Place while firefighters and other emergency crews dealt with the situation.

The building, which was completed in 1932, is an iconic part of Pittsburgh’s skyline that features a light at the top that changes colors based on the weather forecast.