Biden inauguration rehearsal temporarily evacuated after security alert

18 January 2021, 22:16

Security officials respond to the security threat that was later found to be a false alarm
Security officials respond to the security threat that was later found to be a false alarm. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony dress rehearsal was paused and evacuated after a fire in a nearby homeless encampment triggered a security alert.

The US Capitol complex in Washington DC was temporarily locked down on Monday after the blaze, roughly one mile away, sent plumes of smoke into the air.

Local firefighters responded swiftly and put out the fire, with law enforcement officials declaring there was no threat to the public or the rehearsal.

Attendees of the practice ceremony were evacuated from the West Front of the Capitol following an order by the acting chief of Capitol Police.

Officials said the decision was made for the sake of caution.

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The fire in the homeless encampment was quickly extinguished by firefighters
The fire in the homeless encampment was quickly extinguished by firefighters. Picture: PA
Attendees at the dress rehearsal were evacuated to inside the Capitol complex
Attendees at the dress rehearsal were evacuated to inside the Capitol complex. Picture: PA
Security in Washington DC has been ramped up following the storming of the Capitol almost two weeks ago
Security in Washington DC has been ramped up following the storming of the Capitol almost two weeks ago. Picture: PA

Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki confirmed there were no fires on or within the complex.

"Members and staff were advised to shelter in place while the incident is being investigated," she said in a statement.

Among those who had gathered for the dress rehearsal were a military band, which was ordered to move indoors to a secure location.

People involved in the walk-through said security officials yelled: "This is not a drill". However, the lockdown was lifted roughly an hour later.

President-elect Biden and other VIPs who are attending Wednesday's ceremony were not present in the trial run.

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The false alarm highlighted the anxiety that has gripped the US capital since the violent insurrection by Donald Trump supporters on 6 January, which left five people dead - including a police officer.

Since the siege, extraordinary measures have been implemented in the city to ensure the inauguration ceremony goes smoothly on Wednesday, including the deployment of 25,000 National Guard troops.

The city centre has been effectively locked down by the US Secret Service, with streets blocked and high fencing installed along roads.

US defence officials demanded the FBI vet all of the National Guard troops being deployed over fears about a potential insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing the event.

Mr Trump does not plan on attending this week's ceremony, the first time a sitting president has not attended since Andrew Jackson, though Vice President Mike Pence will be there alongside other former US leaders.