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.

THE CORRUPT COPS: Police Sgt. Kris Phillips of Hingham, Mass., has been sentenced to half a year in a county jail after he was convicted of lying about an on-duty accident and accepting insurance money for a bogus injury

Police sergeant gets jail term in insurance fraud scheme
Associated Press Saturday, December 03, 2016


PLYMOUTH, Mass. — A Massachusetts police sergeant has been sentenced to serve half a year in a county jail after he was convicted of lying about an on-duty accident and accepting insurance money for a bogus injury.

A jury convicted Hingham (HING'-um) Sgt. Kris Phillips on Thursday of filing false insurance claims and misleading a police investigation.

Authorities say the 20-year police veteran made false insurance claims after he said he was injured on duty in July 2015. Phillips said he was struck and injured by a car as a shopper backed out of a parking space.

An internal police review determined the story was false.

Phillips must also pay nearly $2,000 in restitution. He can no longer serve as a law enforcement officer.


Hingham cop will 'vigorously' contest fraud charges

Updated Jan 15, 2016 at 3:48 AM


Sgt. Kris Phillips was arraigned Thursday morning in Brockton Superior Court, a month after he was indicted by a grand jury for alleged insurance fraud. The indictment said Phillips faked an injury while on duty in July 2015. By Lane Lambert
The Patriot Ledger

BROCKTON, Mass. – For the second time in seven years, Hingham police Sgt. Kris Phillips stood in a courtroom and pleaded innocent.

The first time, in 2008, he was in Hingham District Court on charges – later dismissed – that he struck a town light plant worker in the groin.

This time, he was in Plymouth County Superior Court on Thursday being arraigned on insurance fraud charges.

Standing before Judge Cornelius Moriarty, Phillips gave a firm “not guilty” on all four counts he faces – two for insurance fraud and one each for perjury and witness intimidation.

The 52-year-old police veteran was indicted Dec. 16 by a Plymouth County grand jury on charges that he made false insurance claims after he said he was injured while on duty last July. He has been on administrative leave for months, since an internal police review concluded that his claim was fabricated.

Phillips was released with no bail, on his promise to return to court for a Feb. 29 pretrial conference and an April 13 pretrial hearing.

He made no comment before or after the arraignment, but his attorney, Elliott Sherman of Hingham, told The Patriot Ledger that Phillips “is going to defend (against) the charges vigorously.”

“He was doing what he was supposed to be doing,” Sherman said of Phillips’ patrol duty.

The case goes back to the night of July 17, when Phillips was on patrol at the Hingham Shipyard retail development off Route 3A.

Phillips said he was struck and injured by a car as a shopper backed out of a parking space. But during Phillips’ brief arraignment, Plymouth County prosecutor Russ Eonas said a passerby saw Phillips stand up, put his hand on the car and then fall down.

“He was crouching below a parked car,” Eonas told the judge.

Sherman countered that the incident was “more complicated than the Commonwealth is making it out to be.”

Before the arraignment, Sherman told The Patriot Ledger that it’s unusual for an insurance fraud case to start in Superior Court, rather than a district court.

Hingham police conducted their own investigation soon after the incident and determined that Phillips’ claim was fabricated. He was initially put on paid leave. Selectmen voted to suspend his pay last week.

While the Superior Court case gets underway, Phillips is also facing town action on an unrelated question of his possible role in a pair of anonymous letters sent to selectmen last April.

The letters attacked four finalists for police chief, among them then-Deputy Chief Glenn Olsson, who selectmen later hired. The letters contained work-related information about the finalists from the police department’s secure computer system, and a private investigator’s report about the letters identified Phillips.

Town employee Matthew Hersey later came forward as the letters’ author – he said he did so because Phillips was being unfairly implicated – but selectmen will soon be picking an independent hearing officer for non-criminal charges that Phillips may have been involved.

Phillips could be disciplined or fired if he is found responsible. He was a lieutenant when selectmen fired him in the wake of the 2008 assault case. In 2012 they rehired him as a sergeant.

Reinaldo Torna, 56, and his wife, Mayelin Torna, 44, indicted on two counts of aggravated arson and one count of insurance fraud

Pair indicted on 2 counts of arson, insurance fraud

Published on Dec. 3, 2016

While most Toledo firefighters were attending a “last alarm” service three years ago for two firefighters who were killed in the line of duty, crews from neighboring departments helped battle a fire at a home on Collingwood Boulevard.

Now the former Toledo couple who owned the house have been indicted on two counts of aggravated arson and one count of insurance fraud based on accusations they set a 2½-story wood-frame house at 3248 Collingwood Blvd. on fire and then filed a false insurance claim.

Reinaldo Torna, 56, and his wife, Mayelin Torna, 44, are now believed to be living in Miami, prosecutors said. Fire investigators found multiple points of origin for the fire, which occurred during a service for firefighters Stephen Machcinski and James Dickman, who died in a Magnolia Street fire just a few days earlier.