Police and other emergency workers raced Friday to answer reports of a man on fire at the National Mall near the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, a D.C. Metropolitan Police spokeswoman told Yahoo News.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing flames engulfing the unidentified man near the storied tourist attraction before passersby and joggers scrambled to smother the blaze with their shirts. A helicopter landed on the Mall and he was taken to an area hospital.
Police received a call at 4:24 p.m., and emergency personnel were dispatched to a man who had been on fire but was conscious and breathing, Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Saray Leon said. A medical helicopter arrived and evacuated the man a short time later. Whether the man set himself on fire or was attacked was unknown, though one eyewitness told CNN he saw a gasoline can next to the man.
“I was crossing the street and didn't see him pour the gas or light the match, but saw the flames move up from the middle of his body to his arms,” eyewitness Vanessa Sink told Yahoo News. “He didn't make any noise that I heard.”
“The guy on fire collapsed after a few steps (that looked like flailing dancing) and a runner raced over to him. He tried to knock him over to roll him around, but it seemed he couldn't get close because of the flames,” said Sink, a Washington resident.
“Another man ran over and took off his shirt and the two of them worked on pounding out the flames,” she said. “Other people poured water on him and others called 911."
Sink posted pictures about what she saw on Twitter:
Just witnessed the craziest thing ever... a man set himself on fire and danced down the Mall. #horrifying— Vanessa Sink (@LiveMusicGirl) October 4, 2013
A runner and passerby put the flames out. It was incredible.— Vanessa Sink (@LiveMusicGirl) October 4, 2013
DC police and passerby help man who set himself on fire on the Mall this afternoon pic.twitter.com/XTZc6WaaA2— Vanessa Sink (@LiveMusicGirl) October 4, 2013
Helicopter to transport man who set himself on fire on the Mall today. pic.twitter.com/y6AFts7Qp6— Vanessa Sink (@LiveMusicGirl) October 4, 2013
The incident occurred about seven blocks from the U.S. Capitol Building on the National Mall, where sections are closed off due to a federal government shutdown.
According to one account, passing joggers ripped off their shirts in an effort to smother the flames.
My mom was near the guy who lit himself on fire on the Mall. Says these guys put it out with their shirts pic.twitter.com/xJToYEurqI— Justin Sink (@JTSTheHill) October 4, 2013
The reports come just a day after a woman led police on a high speed chase from the White House to the Capitol Building. The driver of the car was shot and killed by law enforcement authorities after she rammed blockades at the Capitol perimeter. There is no evidence to suggest a connection.