Police say a 61-year-old man died Thursday after setting himself on fire in a crowded plaza at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Authorities say the man who set himself ablaze was a former staff member but don't know what his job was, when he left, or why.
The man was taken to a hospital with severe burns. Several bystanders tried to smother the flames with jackets and other clothing.
The King County medical examiner's office has not identified the man.
The fire was reported in the early afternoon in Red Square, a brick plaza at the center of campus, said Robinson and city Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick.
Robinson said witnesses told him, "All of a sudden there was this big flame and a ball of fire."
People rushed to put out fire
UW student Jayoung Kim said she initially thought the flames were a joke. People threw clothing and tried to squirt the man with water bottles, she said; one man even took off his jeans and tried to use them to douse the flames.
"Nobody could do anything. We couldn't help," she said.
The square was full of people at the lunch hour, said Bjarne Varnes, a university maintenance worker.
Tom Giardino, a student walking to work near the square, said a crowd gathered as the man was put into the ambulance.
"The guy wasn't part of any sort of organized protest and didn't make any declarations before he started," Giardino said.
After the flames were extinguished, the man appeared to be badly burned and was incoherent when medics arrived, UW student Jacob Maria told KOMO-TV. There was a strong smell of gasoline and a gas can in the man's backpack, he said.
It appeared to be a suicide attempt, Robinson said, adding: "We do not know why he did this. We do not know whether he was a student or staff or what his affiliation was."