Watch: Capitol shut down after fire at Washington homeless encampment
A fire near the US Capitol building prompted a swift lockdown on Monday morning during rehearsals for Inauguration Day ceremonies, as lawmakers and staff were told to stay away from windows and “seek cover” if outside.
Staffers attending a rehearsal for the inaugural ceremonies were evacuated from the area and rushed into the US Capitol visitor centre after the lockdown was announced via intercom. Officials later said the fire was not believed to be a threat to the inaugural rehearsal.
A message sent out to offices within the Capitol read: "All buildings within the Capitol Complex: Due to an external security threat located under the bridge on I-295 at First and F Streets SE, no entry or exit is permitted at this time."
The evacuation comes just days after a deadly pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on 6 January during the certification of the 2020 elections, following a speech delivered by President Donald Trump in which he promoted false conspiracy theories of rampant voter fraud and urged his supporters to march to the building.
The clash left at least five people dead, including United States Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, and delayed the certification of the vote by several hours. The riots were ultimately unsuccessful in their goal of preventing the certification of Mr Trump’s electoral defeat.
Reports of smoke rising from behind the Capitol building on Monday appeared to come from a nearby fire in the 100 block of H St SE.
The DC fire department said in a statement there were no injuries in the incident, adding: “This accounts for smoke that many have seen.”
DEVELOPING: Message sent to staff in the U.S. Capitol:
"All buildings within the Capitol Complex: External security threat, no entry or exit is permitted, stay away from exterior windows, doors. If outside, seek cover." https://t.co/tqeCpjbXi6
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 18, 2021
US Capitol visitor center full of evacuated staff during inaugural rehearsal pic.twitter.com/mSIxCDNf6h
— Jasper Colt (@jaspercolt) January 18, 2021
USCP: Due to an external security threat under the bridge on I-295 at First and F Streets SE, staff and other personnel are directed to avoid coming to the Capitol Complex area until further notice. All personnel currently on the Capitol Complex are advised to stay indoors
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) January 18, 2021
Fire department officials later said the fire involved “a homeless tent” beneath the freeway, in which an occupant had been using propane. One person was injured in the fire.
Security throughout the nation’s capital has been intense following the deadly pro-Trump mob, and ahead of the inaugural ceremonies this week.
While President-elect Joe Biden still plans to be sworn in on the footsteps of the Capitol, his inauguration will be a mostly virtual spectacle, with a “Parade Across America” that will begin with Mr Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris heading to the White House in a presidential escort.
The lockdown was lifted shortly after the discovery of the cause for the fire and normal operations were resumed at the Capitol within the hour.
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