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Transport chaos after flats blaze

A landmark building in London's West End has caught fire, sending thick plumes of smoke rising over the heart of the capital.

Fifteen fire engines and about 75 firefighters were sent just after 11am on Tuesday to tackle the large blaze on top of Marconi House, site of the first ever BBC broadcast in 1922.

London Fire Brigade said the fire took hold of about a quarter of the 100sq m (1,076sq ft) roof of the 10-storey building at the junction of the Strand and Aldwych. Smoke billowed across the local area and people were advised to keep their windows closed.

The building is being converted to a luxury hotel and 86 luxury flats to a design by Norman Foster's architectural firm.

There were no reports of people trapped or injured, and the cause of the blaze is unknown.

Melia Hotels International, the Spanish company that owns what will become ME London hotel, said the fire had been brought under control by the evening but not fully extinguished.

"Pending a final assessment, the extent of the material damage is already unknown," a spokeswoman said. "Melia Hotels International is grateful to the London Fire Brigade for their diligence and responsibility in extinguishing the fire, preventing it spreading to the rest of the building and, above all, avoiding injuries."

The construction work will be restarted "as soon as possible", she added.

The fire caused major disruption to buses and cars in the area, with Transport for London closing parts of the Strand, the Mall and Waterloo Bridge and putting diversions in place. London Ambulance Service sent paramedics and five specialist hazardous area response team units as a precaution.

The Strand, which runs between Trafalgar Square and Fleet Street, includes Charing Cross railway station, Somerset House, the Royal Courts of Justice and several West End theatres.

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