- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Air regulators in northern California have cited the recently closed Russian consulate over the dark plumes of smoke seen emitting from its chimney earlier this month on the eve of its shuttering.

“We’re issuing a violation for burning garbage,” Bay Area Air Quality Management District spokesman Ralph Borrmann said Tuesday, a local CBS affiliate reported. “Their staff will be in touch with our settlement staff to look at the circumstances and settle the violation.”

The consulate’s smoke alarm sounded early in the afternoon of Sept. 1, triggering the San Francisco Fire Department to respond to the scene moments later. Firefighters determined it was a false alarm, but acknowledged seeing thick clouds of black smoke billowing from the consulate’s chimney during an unseasonably hot day that had brought record temperatures to the region.

“It was clear they weren’t burning seasoned dry wood,” Mr. Borrmann said Tuesday. “There was a lot of black smoke, lots of onlookers saw it, and because of the thickness and blackness of the smoke, it was clear it was some kind of garbage or material that isn’t permitted for burning.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova previously said that a “wisp of smoke” was caused by “emergency conservation” efforts, including “closing the windows, lowering the curtains, cutting off the water, turning off the lights, closing the doors, throwing away the garbage.”

The incident happened a day before a State Department-imposed deadline for Russia to vacate the premise, raising suspicions that diplomats had attempted to destroy evidence before exiting.

“If there ever was doubt that espionage was going on in the SF consulate, black smoke clears the air on the issue,” Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, said previously.

The U.S. State Department ordered Russia to vacate its San Francisco consulate by Sept. 2 amid an ongoing tit-for-tat row between Washington and Moscow initiated by the Obama administration in response to Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

The Obama administration seized two Russian compounds in December in tandem with ordering the expulsions of dozens of alleged diplomats. Moscow retaliated in July by scaling back the number of U.S. representatives allowed there, and the Trump administration responded last month by ordering the shuttering of the San Francisco consulate as well as a facility in D.C., where witnesses also reported seeing smoke on the eve of its shuttering this month.

Russia has denied interfering in last year’s U.S. presidential election.

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