There were no serious injuries or deaths reported. The National Christmas Tree, however, on the Ellipse near the White House, was toppled by the fierce winds. Damage estimates and exact causes of the blazes were not immediately available.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) changed Saturday plans and instead toured the state by air with aides to see the fire damage. A Virginia official said that more than 100 wildfires were burning in the state. By Saturday evening Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) declared the blazes in his state essentially "contained," if not fully extinguished.
Officials remained on guard late Saturday, even though winds were expected to subside by Sunday morning. For many residents, commuters and emergency officials, Saturday was an anxious day.
In one Prince George's County neighborhood, residents grabbed garden hoses and buckets in hopes of beating back the encroaching flames.
Randy Phoebus, 53, a postal worker who has lived in Fort Washington for seven years, described a chaotic scene: residents desperately fighting the flames as smoke reduced the sun to a dim yellow light. Several homes caught fire.
"If the firefighters hadn't pulled up between the houses, and without the garden hoses, it would have burned more houses,'' Phoebus said. "Assuming nothing happens overnight, they did a great job."
Fire officials knew there was a danger since the National Weather Service had issued high-wind and red-flag warnings, which signal that an area is vulnerable to wildfires.
But as reports of new fires flooded in, fire officials in Maryland and Virginia were understaffed. Prince George's alone brought in as many as 200 off-duty firefighters - about double its regular weekend staffing - to help battle blazes that ranged from small house fires to large brush fires.
Gov. O'Malley said he could not recall "this many brush fires on one day."
Power outages were also an issue. At one point Saturday, more than 18,000 customers were without power in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia.
The most stubborn of Saturday's blazes was in Laurel, where a fire started about noon at a mulch plant not far from Interstate 95. The fierce winds, coupled with 30-foot-piles of mulch spread over 100 acres, made for difficult and treacherous firefighting conditions.
"This is the biggest brush fire that I have seen in 28 years," said Al Schwartz, 43, a member of Beltsville Engine Company 31 and one of many firefighters brought in to control the blaze.
Smoke from the Laurel fire forced the closure of both directions of I-95 just south of Route 198. Motorists stuck in their cars complained of reduced visibility and irritated, itchy eyes.