Man sets himself on fire on National Mall

No cause is clearly associated with the self-immolation

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Law enforcement officers investigate the scene on the National Mall in Washington where, according to a fire official, a man set himself on fire Friday. The official said the man was flown by helicopter to a hospital.

WASHINGTON — A man set himself on fire on the National Mall in the nation’s capital as passers-by rushed to help douse the flames, officials and witnesses said Friday afternoon.

The reason for the self-immolation was not immediately clear and the man’s identity was not disclosed. But it occurred in public view, on a central national gathering place, in a city still rattled by a mass shooting last month and a high-speed car chase outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday that ended with a woman being shot dead by police.

The man on the Mall was airlifted to a hospital with life-threatening injuries, said District of Columbia fire department spokesman Tim Wilson.

He was standing by himself in the center of the Mall when he emptied a red gasoline can on himself and set himself on fire moments later, said Katy Scheflen, who saw it as she walked nearby. Police say they were called around 4:20 p.m. Friday.

Scheflen said passing joggers took off their shirts to help douse the flames, and the man was clearly alive as the fire spread. A police department spokesman said he was conscious and breathing at the scene. MedStar Washington Hospital Center tweeted that the man was taken there but had no condition update.

“There was not a lot people could do because it was a gasoline fire,” Scheflen said.

She said he may have said something before he acted “but it was nothing intelligible.” She said she did not see him holding any sign; she said there was another man with a tripod set up nearby, but did not mention if he was filming.

Lt. Pamela Smith of the U.S. Park Police, which is investigating along with the D.C. police department, said: “I’m not aware of any signage or any articulation of any causes.” The D.C. police department has dispatched its violent crimes branch, which responds when a person is seriously injured.