Firefighters rescue elderly woman, saying rosary, after tree falls into Watertown apartment and bursts into flames

WATERTOWN—Rose Reggio was praying the rosary in the bedroom of her Watertown apartment Monday afternoon when she heard the explosion. The house began to fill with smoke, and suddenly there were firefighters helping her down the back stairs.

“I heard a big bang, there was all this commotion. ... I didn’t know what was on fire,” said the 87-year-old. “You pray, you pray to God.”

The fierce winds of Hurricane Sandy had toppled the 30-foot-tall tree across the street from her second-floor Templeton Parkway apartment, sending it crashing through 8,000-volt power lines and smashing the apartment’s windows. Electrified, the tree burst into flames.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Watertown Fire Department was on a call just around the corner, and within minutes had evacuated the six residents in the apartment building at the time. No one was injured, though power was knocked out to the neighborhood, according to the Fire Department. The fire went out on its own when the power line snapped.

The apartment building itself, said Deputy Fire Chief Bob Quinn, only appeared to be on fire because the tree was in flames. Nearly an hour after the tree fell, it still laid across the street, branches stuck through the front windows. Its root system ripped up the sidewalk when it tipped, and chunks of concrete jutted up around the hole it left.

It was the fourth time on Monday that a tree had fallen onto a house in Watertown, said Fire Chief Mario Orangio. In the three earlier instances, he said, no one was home. First responders, he said, were braced for more as the storm continued.

“It’s going to be a long night,” he said.

The electrical wires knocked down by the tree on Templeton Parkway lay tangled in the branches and spread over the street. Firefighters were not sure whether they were live and kept people back until NStar arrived and cut the power.

Neighbors who saw the tree fall were shaken—everyone in the neighborhood knows Reggio, and they were all worried for their sweet, feisty neighbor.

“I see smoke, then I see fire. Explosion after explosion,” said Ralph Chiodo, who lives across the street from Reggio. “I said, goodbye house. That house is going to burn for sure.”

When he and his wife tried to call 911, they said, they found that their phone line was dead. They made the call on a cellphone.

The tree has been in front of their home for as long as he can remember, said Chiodo, and he said he has been trying to get the city to remove it for 20 years, afraid that something like this would happen.

“Thank God nobody got hurt,” said Chiodo’s wife, Ines.

Reggio, barely 5 feet tall, stood soaking wet and shivering outside her apartment as she stared at the tree that interrupted her prayers. At the same time, a parade of neighbors offered her jackets, a place to stay, and a warm car to sit in.

She was never scared, she said.

“My husband’s been gone 48 years, he’s watching over me all the time,” she said. “I feel my husband’s with me, God’s with me.”