According to White House aides, the blaze started shortly after 12 noon, minutes after Mr. Cheney slipped out of a cabinet meeting, saying that he had to "hit the head." But rather than using the bathroom as he had stated, the vice president instead went to his office and put a blowtorch to a pile of CIA interrogation tapes which the White House had feared might be subpoenaed in the near future.
"I started burning those things and boom, they went up like a rocket," an apologetic Mr. Cheney later told reporters.
The accidental blaze quickly spread from the videotapes to a nearby stack of transcripts of phone conversations involving Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and singer Barbra Streisand that Mr. Cheney had obtained via a warrantless wiretap.
"Once those transcripts caught on fire, I knew the building was a goner," Mr. Cheney said. "There were literally thousands and thousands of pages of that stuff."
Speaking in front of the charred remains of the historic building, administration spokeswoman Dana Perino said that the White House might have been saved had it not been for an unfortunate bureaucratic mix-up: "Instead of calling the fire department, President Bush called FEMA."
Elsewhere, natural honey is now considered a more effective remedy for children's coughs than over-the-counter medicines, according to a study commissioned by the National Association of Bees.