Participants at a rehearsal for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration were evacuated from the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Monday after a fire broke out near the building, according to officials.
With tensions still high in the wake of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump attack on the Capitol, security officers rapidly whisked away the participants, including members of a military band, as a plume of smoke was seen shooting up in the air a few blocks away around 10:30 am local time.
But the blaze apparently was not connected to the inaugural preparations, and the city’s fire department said no injuries were reported.
Law enforcement officials said the fire likely started in a homeless encampment under a highway overpass about five blocks away from the Capitol.
Neither Biden nor vice president-elect Kamala Harris were on site.
The U.S. Secret Service, which is leading security operations for Biden’s Wednesday inauguration, said it ordered the fire-related evacuation “out of an abundance of caution” and that people on the Capitol grounds were told to shelter in place.
“There is no threat to the public,” the agency said in a statement.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
The precautionary shutdown comes at a tumultuous time in the nation’s capital.
Tens of thousands of National Guard troops have been dispatched to the city ahead of Biden’s inauguration amid warnings from the FBI that armed far-right groups may attempt to pull off another attack on the Capitol.
The National Mall, usually a place for supporters of the new president to gather during the inauguration, has been completely sealed off at least through Thursday, and security personnel erected large steel barriers around Capitol Hill over the weekend, making Washington look like a city at war.
President Donald Trump, who will not attend Biden’s inauguration, has been impeached for inciting the Jan. 6 attack, in which five people died, by telling thousands of supporters to “fight” to stop lawmakers from certifying the 2020 election results during a joint session of Congress at the Capitol. (dpa/NAN)