A minor fire on a balcony of the Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Charleston this afternoon closed off streets in the heart of the tourist district for a while and drew a large crowd to watch the action.

The Charleston Fire Department got a call at 4:11 p.m. that smoke was coming from a balcony outside a meeting room, spokesman Mark Ruppel said.

The hotel was evacuated as a precaution, he said.

As emergency vehicles filled that section of King Street, a ladder was extended from a fire engine to the balcony. A crew climbed up with a chain saw to cut down to the source of the smoke.

Hotel Chef Simon Andrews was among those standing on King Street watching the action.

“I’ve worked here for 14 years, and it’s the first time I’ve seen something like this,” he said. “I’m glad to see this kind of response.”

He said he didn’t expect the interruption to prevent him from preparing for two events Tuesday night.

The balcony is outside a meeting room and is popular with smokers. It’s not clear yet if the fire was caused by a cigarette or some equipment malfunction, Ruppel said.

The crew pulled in the ladder about 4:50 p.m., but streets were closed a while longer while emergency vehicles cleared out.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.