WASHINGTON -- A man lit himself on fire Friday just outside the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall, prompting a group of bystanders to put out the blaze with their shirts, witnesses said.
The man, who has not been identified, was taken by helicopter to an area hospital.
When D.C. resident Nicole Didyk approached the scene, she said she saw "flames on the Mall. ... Not like shooting flames, but the grass was on fire."
Didyk said she saw four or five men with their shirts off, using the clothing to beat out flames that were engulfing a man's body. The men putting out the fire were passersby, she said, and one of them told her that the man had "saluted the Capitol and then lit himself on fire."
One of the men putting out the flames told Didyk that the man said thank you after the flames were extinguished.
"I'm shooken up," Didyk said. "I mean, it's scary."
Meghan van Heertum, who was visiting Washington on vacation from Wassau, Wis., said the fire had been extinguished by the time she arrived at the scene but that the man did not appear to be moving before he was taken away.
Van Heertum, an emergency room nurse, said she saw a group of people huddled trying to put out a fire.
"I smelled burnt flesh and put two and two together," she said.
She said the whole incident seemed to last no more than 15 or 20 minutes.
Police said the man lit himself on fire at about 4:24 p.m. but did not provide any other information. They said they did not know the man's condition.