The West Wing of the White House was evacuated on Saturday after smoke started to come from a mechanical closet, the Secret Service has said.
The evacuation took place at close to 7 am, as firefighters surveyed the scene and workers were ordered out of the building. The evacuation also affected the media area of the West Wing, forcing journalists and photographers to briefly leave the building.
The White House evacuation was said to be done in “an abundance of caution,” and the smoke did not appear to be a significant threat. Fire trucks were dispatched to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, including a ladder truck, but left the scene shortly after arriving.
Officials within the White House said the smoke was caused by an overheating piece of equipment. The closet was not located near the Oval Office, but the evacuation went forward for the entire West Wing to avoid risk of damage spreading.
The incident will reportedly not affect the work of President Obama, who has been stumping lately in support of his health care law, vowing that its benefits would be delivered on schedule. He also slammed critics, accusing them of spreading misinformation about the law.
“No one can be turned away from private insurance plans,” Obama told reporters Friday in the East Room of the White House. “If you’re sick, you’ll finally have the same chance to buy quality, affordable health care as everybody else.”
Obama also laid out his case for universal health care.
“The United States of America does not sentence its people to suffering just because they don’t make enough to buy insurance on the private market, just because their work doesn’t provide health insurance, just because they fall sick or suffer an accident,” Obama said. “That could happen to anybody. And regular access to a doctor or medicine or preventive care — that’s not some earned privilege; it is a right.”
Shortly after the White House West Wing was evacuated, people were allowed back inside to work and calm was restored. There were no injuries reported, and President Obama and his family were not affected by the scene.