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A fire that caused an estimated $250,000 damage to the Columbia Athletic Club Friday appears to have been caused by an electrical wiring short in the ceiling, a state Fire Marshal said.

"We haven't found any suspicious circumstances," said Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Bob Thomas. "The fire appeared to have started in the ceiling above the men's locker room, where there's a lot of electrical and conduit wiring."

No one was injured in the fire and investigators expect to make a ruling on the cause early this week, Thomas said.

Fire officials and members of the Columbia Association, which oversees the athletic facility, say it will be at least a week before the club reopens.

The Columbia Association plans to provide extra staffing at Columbia's Supreme Court athletic facility until the damage is repaired at the athletic club, said Pam Mack, a spokeswoman for the Columbia Association.

She said the fire also has prompted the Supreme Court to open its doors New Year's Day.

"The fire was confined to the whirlpool and sauna area, but there was extensive water damage to the carpets and possibly to the aerobics floor," said Mack. "We're going to keep it closed until we clean it up."

A cleaning woman working at the club smelled smoke at approximately 3:10 a.m. and called county firefighters, who arrived to find heavy smoke in the attic over the locker room and sauna, a fire report said.

The club, located in the 5400 block of Beaverkill Road, also suffered water damage in the basement when a pipe burst in the sauna and flooded the floor with approximately eight inches of water, said fire department Battalion Chief Donald R. Howell.

Smoke in and around the building became so heavy at one point that firefighters were unable to see the building from the nearby parking lot, Howell said.

Areas that were damaged most heavily were the central reception area, the men's locker room, and the whirlpool and sauna areas, fire officials said.

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