John Sullivan (Reader submission)
Four residents and at least one firefighter were taken to area hospitals after a spectacular nine-alarm blaze this afternoon at a 10-story condominium building in Boston's Back Bay section that caused an estimated $3.5 million in damage.
One woman was guided by firefighters to the building's roof until the fire below was controlled, said Fire Chief Ronald Keating. No information was immediately available on the condition of those injured.
The fire at the Beacon Towers building at Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue drew hundreds of spectators. Witnesses reported seeing tongues of flame and heavy smoke pouring from the building as the blaze began.
"She was leaning out the window and smoke started coming out,'' said Lee. He said the woman was not screaming for help but was on her cellphone, apparently calling for help. Witnesses said they saw firefighters suddenly appear in the window, and strap an oxygen mask on the woman before bringing her back inside.
The fire was reported at 1:46 p.m., said Steve MacDonald, a fire department spokesman. The blaze originated in a unit on the seventh floor on the Massachusetts Avenue side of the building. The cause is under investigation, he said.
There were no sprinklers in the building because it is a condo and exempt from sprinkler requirements, fire officials said.
MacDonald said 180 of the 264 city firefighters on duty this afternoon worked on the blaze. He said it was the first nine-alarm fire in the city in several years.
"It looked like a volcano," said Zubeidat Tsarmaeva, 42, of Cambridge. "There was fire coming from the seventh floor of the building, shooting out of the windows."
"It was terrible. I didn't even want to watch," said Tsarmaeva, who was visiting a friend nearby.
Lisa Castellano, 51, a resident of nearby Marlborough Street, said, "This is terrible. I wouldn't wish this on anybody."
Shortly before 3 p.m., four ladder trucks could be seen positioned around the building, pouring water through smashed open windows on the sixth, seventh and eighth floors. Charring was visible on the exterior of the seventh floor.
About 125 people were living in the building in 69 small units. The building was built in 1895 and went condo in 1985, MacDonald said.
One resident, Leigh Bauer, said she had gone to lunch with a friend and then returned to see the building burning.
She said she did not know the condition of her unit, and that she had not pressed firefighters for information.
"I just wanted to let them do their jobs,'' she said. "It seems like they are all over the place.''
Richard Steffenhagen said he was in his 10th-floor unit when smoke alarms started sounding. He walked down the stairs, but saw no sign of any emergency as he did so.
"There was nothing going on to indicate there was a fire – and then at the front of the building you could see there was a problem,'' he said, referring to the smoke and flames that poured from the building at the height of the fire.
Steffenhagen has lived in the condo for 25 years. He said the condo association discussed installing sprinklers decades ago, but decided against it because they were not mandated by state law.
Intersections are closed at Commonwealth and Massachusetts avenues, Charlesgate at East Commonwealth Avenue, Charlesgate at West Commonwealth Avenue, and Beacon and Hereford streets, said Boston Police Officer Eddy Chrispin.
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more