Two fires ravaged historic sites in the nation's capital Monday, one gutting part of the 134-year-old Eastern Market and the other destroying irreplaceable documents and art at the Georgetown public library branch.
Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin said there was absolutely no suspicion that the fires were related.
The first blaze tore through the southern half of the Eastern Market, a Capitol Hill landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The city-owned building was empty at the time and there were no injuries, Rubin said.
Hours later, a blaze rushed through the D.C. Public Library's Georgetown branch. The building, in the Georgetown National Register Historic District, was undergoing renovations. There were no injuries.
Many library employees cried at the sight of the flames, including Jerry McCoy, the archivist who oversees the Peabody collection of artifacts. "This is stuff nobody else has, not even the Library of Congress," McCoy said, weeping with his head against a tree.
"I've always feared this was going to happen. This is my worst nightmare come true," he said, lamenting the lack of fire sprinklers or a fire alarm.
McCoy, who was not in the building, said he always imagined what he'd grab first if a fire broke out. Fortunately, firefighters grabbed that item, a painting by Yaro Mamout that had twice been borrowed by the Smithsonian Institution. It came out looking slightly lighter from water exposure, but salvageable.
Firefighters brought out one piece of art after another and laid them out on the sidewalk.
McCoy said none of the material was on microfiche or made into digital copies. "It's absolutely irreplaceable," he said.
Investigators had not determined the cause of the fire or come up with a damage estimate shortly after the fire was doused Monday evening, said fire department spokesman Alan Etter. Library officials were still sorting through the contents late Monday to determine what could be saved.
Etter said that the cause of the Eastern Market fire had not been determined but that arson had been ruled out. It took 160 firefighters two hours to put out the blaze. Etter estimated the damage at $5 million to $10 million.
"It looked like the flames of hell," said Kyle Burk, 31, who lives two blocks from the market.
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 on the business the market brings to the neighborhood.
City and federal officials promised to rebuild the market, which has fresh produce and meat stands and a weekend flea market.