The U.S. Capitol complex was closed Wednesday when a fire at a homeless camp miles away sent a plume of smoke into the air, sparking safety concerns in an already nervous city. A false alarm briefly interrupted a four-year drill in which standard workers slipped into the roles of Biden and other VIPs and put the U.S. Navy band through its paces, including practicing the Star-Spangled Banner before Lady Gaga’s performance on Wednesday. The rehearsal continued Thursday morning, accompanied by helicopters patrolling the skies above the Capitol.
Police said there was no danger to the public and the fire was not a threat to the inauguration.
Fire crews at the scene quickly extinguished the blaze, and officials said the acting chief of Capitol Police urged those present to evacuate as a precaution. In Washington, there is fear amid growing fears that President-elect Donald Trump and his administration could trigger extraordinary measures for the inauguration. Armed protests planned for this weekend across the country have been largely unsuccessful, but fear is running high in Washington in the wake of Trump’s election and growing fears of violence.
In the weeks since the election, the US Secret Service has tightened security around the Capitol, erecting high fences, cordoning off roads, virtually shutting down the city center, and deploying US Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Guard troops throughout the area. US defense officials concerned about the safety of service members involved in securing the event have asked the FBI to review the safety of the 25,000 National Guard personnel who are entering the area. Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said in a statement Monday that the Pentagon is continuing to review its troops but has not yet found any intelligence that indicated an insider threat.
The Associated Press received a concerned message from a member of the National Security Council’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to National Guard troops coming to Washington.
Asked about the bulletin, a Secret Service spokesman said in a statement that the comment was made on an intelligence matter. Without going into details of the post, it said no member of the service should post online via protected sensitive websites and urged them to stop immediately.
Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki said there was currently no fire on campus. President Donald Trump has refused to attend the inauguration, the first time a sitting president has not attended since Andrew Johnson, though Vice President Mike Pence and other former presidents will attend.