Smoke rising from a smoldering fire outside the Transportation Walk near the Department of Transportation.
Photo by Jennifer McLaughlin

I was leaving the Navy Yard Harris Teeter on April 30 when I saw the emergency vehicles showing up and followed to see what was going on.

There was lots of smoke coming from the western entrance of the “Walking Museum of Transportation” next to the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters. I was glad to see no one was hurt, because a lot of homeless people stay in that area, including a nearby encampment. 

An fire department official writing a report about the fire.

Photo by Jennifer McLaughlin

I got there just after it happened, and it was put out quickly. D.C. Fire and EMS records show someone called to report the fire at 4:14 p.m. “Now start to spread … The fire is getting big now,” they said, according to the call log. At 4:17 p.m., the fire engine arrived and I took these photos just four minutes after that. Everything was resolved by 4:55 p.m.

I overheard a fire department employee say they thought a cigarette that had not been properly put out was the cause. There was a high wind advisory at the time, so it may not have been originally dropped into the brush. This incident was one of 566 calls FEMS responded to that day, according to a tweet from the department.

“We’re now creeping up to pre-COVID numbers [of calls], including in the downtown sector,” said Douglas Buchanan, Chief Communications Officer for FEMS. “It’s been very slow for the last year, just because of the small amount of residents and no one coming into work.” 

There has been a noticeable uptick in calls as of two or three weeks ago, Buchanan said.