On a day when temperatures are expected to hit record highs in the Bay Area, acrid black smoke was seen pouring from a chimney at the Russian Consulate in San Francisco after consulate staff lit a fire in the fireplace. Yesterday, the Trump administration ordered the consulate's closure amid escalating tensions between the United States and Russia.
Firefighters who arrived at the scene told KQED that they were admitted into the building and confirmed the fire was confined to the fireplace.
Mindy Talmadge, a spokeswoman from the San Francisco Fire Department, said the department received a call about the smoke and sent a crew to investigate, but determined the smoke was coming from the chimney. "They had a fire going in their fireplace," she said.
An Associated Press reporter heard people who came from inside the building tell firefighters that consulate staff was burning unidentified items.
Talmadge said she did not know what they were burning on a day when normally cool San Francisco temperatures had already climbed to 95 degrees by noon.
"It was not unintentional. They were burning something in their fireplace," she said.
Friday and Saturday have both also been declared summer Spare the Air Days by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
The consulate's workers are hurrying to shut Russia's oldest consulate in the U.S.
Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Maria Zakharova posted a lengthy response on Facebook, blasting U.S. officials for their persecution and suggesting the FBI was conducting searches of the premises. According to an NPR translator, she wrote:
"We are completing necessary work to evacuate and seal the building. In connection with this work, windows may be closed, blinds lowered, lights turned off, water turned off, doors locked, trash thrown out, heat turned off, alarm systems turned on, etc. It’s unbearably shameful to see what the American government is doing with this whole information campaign."
"In reality, they’re not just sealing the building. They’re sealing bilateral relations with the goal of reviving them at a later date, a better time."
The order for Russia to vacate the consulate and an official diplomatic residence in San Francisco — home to a long-standing community of Russian emigres and technology workers — escalated an already tense diplomatic standoff between Washington and Moscow.
The deadline for the consulate to close is Saturday.