WASHINGTON – An early morning fire ravaged Eastern Market on Monday, gutting part of the 134-year-old Capitol Hill landmark and devastating many vendors and residents who consider the historic public market the soul of the neighborhood.
"This is the worst thing to happen on Capitol Hill since I moved here in 1981," said Patti Cinelli, who lives five blocks away and frequents the market's fresh produce and meat stands and weekend flea market.
Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin said the fire destroyed the southern half of the building, which is owned by the District of Columbia government. The building was empty and there were no injuries.
Rubin said the fire appears to have started about 1 a.m. in a trash bin behind the building. It took 160 firefighters two hours to put out the blaze.
Hours later, city firefighters raced to another blaze at a building with historic ties — the Georgetown branch of the D.C. Public Library. The two-story brick building, which contains archives of documents about the historic neighborhood, opened in 1935, was undergoing renovations.
Fire department spokesman Alan Etter said the building's entire roof caught fire and parts of the structure were in danger of collapsing. There were no reports of injuries.
"All of a sudden it just engulfed," said Claudio Ede, who was working inside the library and first saw smoke when he stepped outside for lunch.
At Eastern Market, neighbor Kyle Burk, 31, described seeing flames shooting above the roof of the market and said he could see the inside engulfed in fire. "It looked like the flames of hell," he said.
Burk worried what the loss of the market would do for surrounding shops like Capitol Hill Books, where he works on weekends and which thrives off the business the market brings to the neighborhood.
Nearby residents and shop owners filled nearby streets well into the late morning, looking at the charred brick structure and consoling one another. Some vendors were allowed in to quickly retrieve paperwork, but fire department officials said it was too dangerous to let anyone remain inside the building. Battalion Chief Robert McClafferty said firefighters were still extinguishing hot spots.
Eastern Market has been in the lives of many shop owners for decades, and for some, since before they were born.
"It's all they know, it's their whole life," said Lakita Dickson, who makes her own jewelry and sells it at a stand outside the market.
Charles Glasgow's family has owned the Southern Maryland Seafood Company for 70 years. He said he grew up in the market and had worked there for 42 years.
"Everyone knows everyone, it's kind of a meeting place," he said.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty vowed to rebuild the landmark and said that in the meantime, the city would try to make accommodations for the vendors to work elsewhere.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who lives on Capitol Hill and regularly visits the market on weekends, said she would seek federal funding to help rebuild the market.
"Eastern Market is a one-of-a-kind landmark ... of value to the country and not just the city," Norton told WTTG-TV.