An eight-alarm fire tore through three buildings and a car in East Boston tonight, but all the residents got out safely, officials said.

The fire department responded at 7:23 p.m. to 85 Lexington St., a 2 1/2-story wood-frame house. Smoke was showing on arrival, fire officials said.

Additional alarms were quickly sounded, the fire department said in an official tweet.

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Smoke wafted through the air, as dozens of people gathered near Lexington and Marion streets. Fire hoses snaked through the streets.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh visited the scene as the firefighting efforts wound down and said he planned to go from there to see displaced families at the Sacred Heart Church.

He said the swift escalation of the fire reminded him of the tragic nine-alarm fire that killed two firefighters in the Back Bay on March 26.

“It’s been a tough stretch for the fire department,” he said. “Thank God, it wasn’t late at night when people would be sleeping.”

Representative Carlo Basile, who also visited the scene, said 12 families had been sent to Sacred Heart Church, and three other families said they would seek shelter with relatives. The Red Cross was on its way to help out.

Shortly before 9 p.m. a fire official briefing the media said the fire was knocked down and firefighters were “chasing hot spots.”

The official said that one three-decker and two two-family houses were involved, along with the car.

The official said firefighters were “on edge” and “operations were very deliberate” after the March 26 blaze that killed Fire Lt. Edward J. Walsh Jr. and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy.

He said firefighters were forced to back out of one building when fire began extending rapidly, and attacked it from the outside. Firefighters were able to enter the two other buildings, he said.

A 13-year-old neighborhood resident said he saw the origin of the fire in a car between 85 Lexington and an adjacent house.

“They started the car and the flames just started in the engine. ... It just, like burst in flames,” he said.

Another neighbor, Alix Hallahan, 19, said she heard two large booms and saw flames quickly moving up the side of the house.

“As soon as I heard the first boom, I saw flames,” said Hallahan, adding that she ran to her mother’s house across the street to retrieve her two dogs that were inside.

Fire officials said the houses on either side had some damage, though the heaviest was limited to 85 Lexington.

Hallahan said children live in the entire row of four to five houses that include 85 Lexington.

Steve MacDonald, a Fire Department spokesman, said at the scene that a car was fully engulfed in a nearby alley when firefighters arrived.

He also said flames shot up the side of 85 Lexington, but he said investigators were trying to determine precisely where the fire started.

The fire may have gotten some help from winds. At nearby Logan International Airport, northwest winds were blowing 20 miles per hour and gusting to 30 miles per hour at 7 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. By 8 p.m., though, northwest winds were blowing at 15 miles per hour and gusting to 23 miles per hour, said weather service meteorologist William Babcock.

He said winds were expected to die down in the coming hours.