Authorities were called to the Mall on Friday afternoon to respond to reports that a man had set himself on fire.
The man was taken to the hospital with “life threatening injuries,” Fire Department spokesman Timothy J. Wilson said.
“No indication on our end of what caused the fire,” Wilson said. “So how it started, don’t know.”
Hugh Carew, a D.C. police spokesman, said the initial call that came in referred to a man who set himself on fire on the Mall.
Witnesses, standing blocks from the path of a car chase that tore through downtown Washington on Thursday, described the smell of burning flesh and seeing passersby come to the man’s aid.
Nicole Didyk of the District was jogging on the mall when she witnessed the incident.
She said she saw about five men using T-shirts to smother flames on a man in the middle of the Mall at 7th Street and Jefferson Drive. She said she did not see flames on him, but his “face and arms were charred” and the ground nearby was in flames.
Didyk said she spoke to one of the men who tried to put out the flames afterward. That man told her that the injured man had faced the Capitol, doused himself on fire and then lit himself on fire.
The man who tried to put out the flames said the victim told the people who had come to his rescue “thank you” afterward.
Meghan Van Heertum was walking on the Mall when she saw a massive police response near Seventh and Jefferson.
“I saw cops fly up from all directions,” Van Heertum said.
She saw one of the officers kick something that was on fire, near a man that was lying on the ground in the middle of the Mall. What appeared to be a red gas can and yellow tarp were seen near that location.
The flames were only a couple of feet off the ground, she said. She did not see flames coming from the man, but the air “smelled strongly of burning flesh.”
Authorities were alerted at 4:24 p.m., and the fire department arrived about three minutes later, Wilson said.
D.C. police spokeswoman Saray Leon said the man was “conscious and breathing” when firefighters responded.
A Metro spokeswoman reported that a Metro Transit Police officer also saw the incident and tried to help.
A witness, Luke Martone, sent in this video of what appears to be the helicopter airlifting the man off the Mall:
This post has been updated.