Smoke and flames were spotted at two separate Russian diplomatic buildings the day after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered Moscow to close some of its diplomatic properties in the United States. Reports of mysterious smoke at both the Russian consulate in San Francisco and a Russian diplomatic building in Washington, D.C. surfaced online Friday, prompting some intense speculation.
In San Francisco, black smoke could be seen billowing from the chimney of the city's Russian Consulate at roughly 12:30 p.m. PST on Friday. San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge told the Associated Press that a crew sent to investigate reports of smoke at the consulate determined it was coming from a chimney. "It was not unintentional," Talmadge said of the fire in a statement to the the Associated Press. "They were burning something in their fireplace."
An Associated Press reporter also reported hearing firefighters being told the smoke was not due to a problem within the building but rather "that consulate staff were burning unidentified items in a fireplace." According to the Washington Post, firefighters were not permitted to enter the Russian consulate in San Francisco. One unnamed Russian official reportedly told CNN there was "no need to worry," adding, "they are not electing a Pope."
But reports of the acrid black smoke have sparked concern and speculation among some state officials. "If there ever was doubt that espionage was going on in the SF consulate, black smoke clears the air on the issue," California Rep. Jackie Speier said in a tweet posted Friday.
Although it was unclear what or why consulate staff was burning, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has claimed the consulate is scheduled to be searched by U.S. "special services" Saturday.
Across the country in Washington, a fire was spotted burning sometime in the late afternoon Friday behind The Trade Representative of the Russian Federation, one of diplomatic buildings Moscow was ordered to shutter by President Trump. According to Foreign Policy, both smoke and flames "were clearly visible" near the back of the building "and staff could be seen dumping what appeared to be paper into the fire." The magazine also reported a workman had removed security cameras in the same area with bolt cutters earlier in the day.
In response to the Kremlin's demand that the United States reduce the size of its diplomatic staff stationed in Russia, Trump ordered Moscow to close its diplomatic annexes in New York and Washington as well as its consulate in San Francisco. Russia was given until Saturday to vacate and shutter its properties. The State Department has said it will, beginning Saturday, "secure and maintain" the three diplomatic properties, including controlling access and entry.