BOSTON - Thousands of people were affected after a massive fire broke out in East Boston that forced the suspension of Blue Line train service and neighborhood evacuations.
Water supply quickly became an issue, said Boston Fire Commissioner Joe Finn during a press conference from the scene around 7:15 p.m. Friday.
"We’ve kind of overcome that hurdle, but the fire is still ongoing. Our concern now is a bunch of chemicals in the building," Finn said.
"It’s going to take a while for us to get a handle on this," he said.
Boston Fire tweeted Friday that New England Casket Co. on Bennington Street in Eastie was on fire.
The fire rages on pic.twitter.com/BjVTKsuY7P— Boston Fire Dept. (@BostonFire) March 15, 2019
The fire appeared to start in an area where the furnace comes through the roof, Finn said.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called the blaze "the biggest fire that I've seen as mayor of the city."
Around 11 p.m., Walsh said evacuated residents could return home. Firefighters knocked down the heavy fire after seven hours of fighting the blaze, and crews continued to chase hot spots into the night.
At least five people had been sent to local hospitals with minor injuries, according to Boston Fire Commissioner Joe Finn. One police officer who was helping to evacuate residents was treated for smoke inhalation, Finn said.
Thick, billowing plumes of smoke and large flames continued burning into the night, hours after the fire broke out around 3 p.m. The fire went to 9 alarms by 6:15 p.m.
City officials used the reverse 911 system to evacuate residents in the Orient Heights section of the city. A shelter has been set up for those forced to evacuate their homes.
Grateful for the incredible bravery and hard work of our first responders battling the fire in East Boston.— Charlie Baker (@MassGovernor) March 16, 2019
We will continue to support the Orient Heights neighborhood and all those affected, and we urge residents to respect the guidance & direction of public safety officials.
Finn said the fire extended throughout all of the buildings. "A multitude of buildings" that were connected - some were old, some were new - are a total loss, he said.
"The problem is it's an awfully big fire, for sure. Our issue is water. We need pumps," Finn said.
Report of a building fire at3:04 heavy fire showing at 24 Bennington New England Casket. company East Boston this is now a 3rd alarm pic.twitter.com/rIMbUGcJ7S— Boston Fire Dept. (@BostonFire) March 15, 2019
All companies have been ordered out of the building heavy smoke and fire throughout the building. All companies are working. pic.twitter.com/YgT7vCIoHe— Boston Fire Dept. (@BostonFire) March 15, 2019
A concern has been chemicals from the building seeping into the air, Finn said. The chemicals are used to lacquer the caskets, Finn said.
"They’re less toxic than the real bad stuff. So they are toxic. They are. We've been monitoring and it’s in a good acceptable range," Finn said.
The MBTA tweeted soon after that the fire department requested the Blue Line suspend its service between Orient Heights and Wonderland with shuttle buses replacing the T between the stops.
That suspended service soon extended to Airport, two stops down the line from Orient Heights.
On Saturday morning, the MBTA released a statement that they will continue to replace service between Wonderland and Airport with shuttle buses going inbound. In the outbound direction, all blue line trains will be be replaced by shuttle buses. Buses will not service the Suffolk Downs station due to "ongoing fire department activity."
"In the inbound direction, replacement buses will serve all Blue Line stations between Wonderland and Airport stations.— David Souza (@dsouza4717) March 16, 2019
"In the outbound direction, buses are serving all stations with the exception of Suffolk Downs because of ongoing fire department activity," per @MBTA release https://t.co/5L4ITlZgaI
#MBTA #BlueLine: Update- At the request of the Boston Fire Department, Blue Line service has been suspended between Orient Heights and Wonderland for Eastbound and Westbound service. Shuttle buses will replace service in both directions.— MBTA (@MBTA) March 15, 2019
Residents in the Orient Height neighborhood were ordered to evacuate due to heavy smoke conditions. Reverse 911 calls went out to those who need to evacuate. They were told to go to Curtis Guild Elementary School at 195 Leyden St.
We are now in the process of evacuating residents in the Orient Height neighborhood around the fire because of the heavy smoke conditions . A 8th alarm has been ordered pic.twitter.com/e7m2Qw3GFC— Boston Fire Dept. (@BostonFire) March 15, 2019
Vasco Cunha had been working at the company for 42 years, and watched as his livelihood and his routine was readied for demolition Saturday.
"I don't know, I'm sad right now, what happened here," Cunha said."
The fire took out the family business, nearly 80 years old, with Lou Tobia as a third-generation owner.
"We make caskets, we sell them all over the country," Tobia said. "So we're not really sure what we're gonna do. We're just taking it one step at a time right now."
The next step will be painful to watch for the owners and workers, as the building gets demolished. Then, the step after that, could be the longest part of the journey.
"We have just under 100 employees," Tobia said. "They're all coming bym they're heartbroken. A lot of them have worked here for a long, long time. So we just got to make sure they're okay, my customers are okay and all that good stuff."
Finn said it's unclear what happened, but said it was a multi-million dollar loss.
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