Flash Fires Force Building Site Evacuation in Washington D.C.

Soil contaminated by gasoline set off flash fires at a construction site in Northwest Washington yesterday, forcing authorities to shut down a busy portion of 15th Street for several hours.

Construction crews were excavating the site about 8 a.m. when the small fires began to erupt just above the ground. Fire officials said high temperatures and construction work ignited fuel vapors wafting from the soil.

Construction was halted, and crews covered the soil with fresh dirt. Fire officials planned to reexamine the site today to determine how to continue the excavation. Southbound lanes were shut on 15th street between L and M streets NW until about 4 p.m., officials said. Crews opened northbound lanes about 12:30 p.m.

Gasoline probably seeped into the ground from fuel tanks, which were removed from the area in the early 1990s. The Washington Post Co. operated a parking garage at the site and sold the property in 2003 to Monument Realty. The developer is constructing an office building that is scheduled to open in 2007.