Under the feet of a Secret Service agent and Capitol police officer, the fire was quickly stomped out; the woman who ignited it was hustled into custody almost as swiftly.
Although the man who had taken the oath of office just three hours earlier was only a few dozen yards away, it seemed unlikely that he could have noticed the quickly contained incident. But President Bush could not have missed the thousands of other protesters who chanted and marched.
Police reported six arrests.
But despite some predictions of Seattle-like violence and gridlock, there were relatively few arrests or violent confrontations throughout the inauguration celebration.
In part that was because of the restraint of both demonstration organizers and the police who surveyed them. But it also probably had a lot to do with the elements - the cold, raw rain cloaking the streets and soaking the crowds that lined them.
Still, thousands of demonstrators did succeed in making their voices and causes heard through a day of marches, shouts, and street theater. For many, the day culminated political pilgrimages.
“The election was such a disaster,” said Karen Zamperini, of Washington, who works for Justice Action Movement, one of the many groups that banded together in recent weeks to amplify their anger with the administration about to take office and the election process.
Karen Overly Smith, of Lancaster, Pa., squished through the mud of Dupont Circle early yesterday morning, surrounded by anti-Bush banners, political puppets, and hundreds of fellow protesters.
“I'm a disgruntled Republican,” Ms. Smith explained. “I'm particularly unhappy with the threat to reproductive rights this election shows us.”
Jed Dodd, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, made his way from Philadelphia to register his outrage at the election's long count.
“I don't think this man won the election, and I don't even think he won Florida. I came down here to show my outrage.”
Many others came not because they prefer former Vice President Gore over Mr. Bush, but because they wanted to show their disdain for the nation's entire electoral system.
A few feet away from Mr. Dodd, another protester stood by the Supreme Court steps holding aloft a digitally conjured sign depicting Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore in a passionate embrace.
“Either Way, We Lose,” it said, next to a hammer-and-sickle logo. “Both parties are merging and are becoming Siamese twins joined at the wallet.”
The demonstrations - while loud, widespread, and often strident - seemed generally peaceful. Observers from the National Lawyers Guild reported that the scenes at some of the larger demonstrations at Dupont Circle, at a counter-inaugural ceremony in Stanton Square, and at the march around the Supreme Court, proceeded almost without incident.
But there was friction. One of the day's sharper confrontations took place shortly before Mr. Bush took his oath as, about a mile away, a group of several hundred protesters marched down K Street toward a line of police officers blocking the way to the parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Amid chants of, “Let us through,” and, “The streets belong to us,” several dozen demonstrators tried to push through the police lines. A few succeeded; a few more were arrested. The police then closed ranks and the bulk of the protesters turned back and found other ways through the streets.