3rd package ignites at Washington postal facility

Jan 7 2011 - 5:12pm

Images

Susan Walsh/The Associated Press
Frances Street in Annapolis, Md., is blocked off as officials investigate a suspicious package in the Jeffery Building, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011. Two packages sent to state government buildings 20 miles apart released smoke and odors when they were opened Thursday, but no one was seriously injured, officials said.
Rob Carr/The Associated Press
Police and fire vehicles sit outside of the Maryland Department of Transportation building after a package exploded earlier in the day, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, in Hanover, Md. Maryland officials say two employees opening mail at separate state office buildings had their fingers burned when they opened packages that emitted smoke and fire.
Office of Gov. Martin O'Malley/The Associated Press
In this image provide by the Office of Gov. Martin O'Malley, the envelope, sealed in plastic, that was mailed to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, is seen.
Rob Carr/The Associated Press
Maryland State Fire Marshall William Barnard holds a news conference outside the Maryland Department of Transportation building after a package ignited earlier in the day, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, in Hanover, Md.
Susan Walsh/The Associated Press
Frances Street in Annapolis, Md., is blocked off as officials investigate a suspicious package in the Jeffery Building, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011. Two packages sent to state government buildings 20 miles apart released smoke and odors when they were opened Thursday, but no one was seriously injured, officials said.
Rob Carr/The Associated Press
Police and fire vehicles sit outside of the Maryland Department of Transportation building after a package exploded earlier in the day, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, in Hanover, Md. Maryland officials say two employees opening mail at separate state office buildings had their fingers burned when they opened packages that emitted smoke and fire.
Office of Gov. Martin O'Malley/The Associated Press
In this image provide by the Office of Gov. Martin O'Malley, the envelope, sealed in plastic, that was mailed to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, is seen.
Rob Carr/The Associated Press
Maryland State Fire Marshall William Barnard holds a news conference outside the Maryland Department of Transportation building after a package ignited earlier in the day, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, in Hanover, Md.

WASHINGTON -- A package an official said was addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ignited Friday at a Washington postal facility, a day after fiery packages sent to Maryland's governor and transportation secretary burned the fingers of workers who opened them.

Authorities were bracing for more packages to surface.

"Right now we don't have any other packages, but we're not taking anything for granted," D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.

Initial information indicated the parcel that ignited in northeast Washington about 2:45 p.m. was similar to the two packages opened in Maryland on Thursday, authorities said. The Washington postal facility was evacuated after an employee discovered a parcel that looked similar to the Maryland mailings, authorities said. No injuries were reported.

The Maryland packages contained a note railing against highway signs urging motorists to report suspicious activity, investigators revealed.

The message read: "Report suspicious activity! Total Bull----! You have created a self fulfilling prophecy."

At the D.C. facility, which primarily handles mail for the federal government in Washington, workers are not allowed to open packages, postal inspector Frank Schissler said, so it's unclear exactly how the parcel ignited.

The package was "popping, smoking and there was a brief flash of fire," Lanier said, which was very similar to what authorities described in Maryland.

The labels, postmark and stamps were also similar to the Maryland parcels, Postal Service spokeswoman Joanne Veto said.

The D.C. package that ignited was addressed to Napolitano, according to a Homeland Security Department official who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because it was an ongoing investigation. The postal facility is not near downtown or the Capitol.

The earlier packages, addressed to Gov. Martin O'Malley and to Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley, have been taken to the FBI lab in Quantico, Va., for forensic analysis. They did not contain explosive material.

They were opened within a 15-minute period Thursday at state government buildings 20 miles apart.

The workers who opened the packages singed their fingers, but there were no significant injuries. Mailroom employees were back at work Friday, and they had pictures of the packages and were advised to be vigilant about anything suspicious.

Investigators had no previous indication the packages would be sent anywhere other than Maryland government buildings, Wolf said. While Maryland State Police has been the lead investigative agency, the FBI might now be forced to take a more active role, he said.

Police have not yet identified any suspects. Anyone arrested would be charged with possession and use of an incendiary device, which includes a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, authorities said.

Speaking before the new package was found, Maryland State Police Col. Terrence Sheridan said Friday that authorities were expecting more packages to surface.

"We've got to make sure we go after this person and get them off the street and get them behind bars, because these kinds of things are very, very dangerous," Sheridan said. "We just don't know where this person is going with this. We don't know who it is. We don't know what they're thinking right now."

Nuckols reported from Pikesville, Md. Associated Press writers Alicia Caldwell, Eileen Sullivan, Randolph E. Schmid and Brett Zongker in Washington and Sarah Brumfield in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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