Monday, December 5, 2016

HELL ON EARTH: A massive, 10-alarm fire engulfed a Cambridge neighborhood near Kendall Square Saturday afternoon, injuring multiple first responders, damaging 16 buildings and displacing 125 peoplE

CAMBRIDGE, MA — A massive, 10-alarm fire engulfed a Cambridge neighborhood near Kendall Square Saturday afternoon, injuring multiple first responders, damaging 16 buildings and displacing 125 people, according to fire officials.

But, in what the fire chief has called "a miracle," there were no fatalities or severe injuries.

Ten alarms were ordered late in the afternoon as darkness and smoke enveloped the neighborhood. More than 100 firefighters from at least 11 companies across the metro area were called to the scene Saturday, fighting on multiple fronts against fires that burned into the night. Streets in the area around Berkshire and York streets remained closed in the aftermath (full list here).

One Plymouth Street resident, speaking Russian, said through a translator she was wheeled out of her house by her daughter.

"It happened so quickly, and now our home is gone," she told Patch.

Fire officials on Monday put their tally at 125 people displaced by the fire, including as many as 30 children. Patch was told by a city official Saturday that most of the families displaced had already been taken in for the night by family or friends.

The city has established a shelter, and WBZ reported 120 and counting received help within hours of opening. Additional public resource centers have been opened in the days following (find the full list and hours here).

In addition to the flames, more than 1,000 were plunged into darkness as firefighters converged on the burning buildings. According to Eversource, more than 1,600 Cambridge customers were without electricity Saturday evening.

According to Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons, the fire began in a neighborhood building that was under construction. Fire officials have since confirmed they believe the blaze began in or near that building. Although an investigation has been done, Cambridge Fire does not expect to release a report on the cause for some time Read more here.

No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported, the mayor said in a statement around 6 p.m. Saturday.

That nobody died, "It's plain and simple—it's nothing short of a miracle," Fire Chief Gerald Reardon said.

Fire officials said Monday 16 buildings were severely damaged, including a former church.

City Councilor Tim Toomey, who was on-scene Saturday night, told Patch they were referring to the former St. Patrick's Church, since converted to St. Patrick's Place. The 20-unit affordable housing complex had around 60 residents by Toomey's estimate.

Firefighters, who spent hours dousing the building with water, were ordered to evacuate the former church around 4:30 p.m. By 6:45 p.m., they were still working to put out a stubbornly burning fire in the roof of the building. A large portion remains structurally unsound, Reardon told reporters Monday.
Multiple cars were also overtaken by flames in the heavily residential area. At least one building collapsed, reportedly the same under-construction structure where the blaze began. Additional buildings are scheduled to be demolished, after succumbing to flames and heavy water pumped in by firefighters.

According to multiple reports, including from NECN, several first responders were treated for smoke inhalation. WBZ, citing the state fire marshal, reported two police officers and one firefighter were injured at the Cambridge fire but did not specify how they were injured or how severe the injuries were. FOX 25 reports five or six sustained injuries, but those people were treated on the scene and did not need to be hospitalized, according to the Cambridge fire chief.

The Fire Chief told reporters on the scene it was "a miraculous situation" given the relatively minor injuries and zero fatalities.

“Fortunately it was daytime,” he told reporters. “People (were) awake, available, not sleeping."

Nearby residents told Patch Saturday afternoon they were leaving to stay in hotels for the night as their power was off and smoke was still blanketing the area.

One Plymouth Street resident, Fatima Chaves, told Patch she heard what sounded like "two or three bombs." She said her son raced into the home and insisted the family leave. They did so, along with all their neighbors, Chaves said.

"I saw smoke and fire, and I saw these wood pieces shattering," she told Patch. "I wanted to go back to my house and get my glasses, and they said we couldn't go back."

Cambridge is a city of more than 100,000 on the banks of the Charles River, across from neighboring Boston. It is famously home to both Harvard University and MIT. The impacted area is one of many densely populated Cambridge neighborhoods, with 90- and 100-year-old wood-frame houses crowded tightly together. Nearby Kendall Square serves as de facto hub for the region's thriving biotech and startup sector.

Fire companies from all corners of the metro area were on scene to assist, including first responders from Boston, Newton, Waltham, Brookline, Arlington and Wakefield.

Boston Fire officials praised the statewide mutual aid response system through which the many companies on-scene were "seamlessly working as (one)," the fire department said on Twitter.

Complicating the relief efforts were strong winds coming in at around 16 miles per hour, according to a Patch reporter on scene, and clocked as high as 20 miles per hour, according to a report from NBC. Chief Reardon said Monday he believes the original blast of fire was strong to whip up winds of its own.

Clouds of smoke choked the city Saturday afternoon, sweeping across the Charles River and into Boston. There, residents from Beacon Hill to Fort Point reported smelling and seeing smoke. Large chunks of ash fell onto the Boston Common, according to one report — more than 2 miles away from the fire itself.

Many in the immediate area wore masks to cover their nose and mouth.

Smoke was heavy enough to be visible on weather radar as it spread over the South Shore Saturday afternoon:

Surveying the scene Saturday night, State Sen. Sal DiDomenico told Patch he grew up on Cambridge Street and his father used to attend church at the former St. Patrick's.

"We're here to do whatever we can and talk to the city manager," he said. "Just before the holidays, this is just unfortunate for these families."

After more than five hours on the scene in Cambridge Saturday, officials said just before 8:30 p.m. the blaze was contained although not yet under control. Shortly before 10 p.m., the Cambridge Fire Department posted on Twitter that firefighters remained "heavily engaged" with the fire.

Operations continued through the night, according to Cambridge Fire.