BOSTON (CBS) – Boston firefighters have put out a smoky four-alarm fire at a garage on Dalton Street. The building is adjacent to the Back Bay Hilton which was evacuated.

According to the fire department, the blaze started when a 115,000 volt NSTAR transformer exploded.

Power was cut in the surrounding area to get the fire under control. NSTAR workers are at the scene working with fire officials. The utility company is bringing in large generators to begin restoring power. An estimated 20,000 people are without power.

Boston Fire spokesman Steve MacDonald says power was out from the Kenmore area to Chinatown. Mayor Menino says power should be restored from Clarendon Street to Chinatown overnight.

Crews will work through the night to restore power to the rest of the city.

door Thousands Without Power After Transformer Explodes In Boston

Boston Firefighters use saw to cut through garage door after transformer explosion. (Photo from Bernice Corpuz WBZ NewsRadio)

Heavy black smoke that fire officials initially said was toxic, billowed from the building for almost two hours. The smoke was determined to be from mineral oil which is used to cool the transformer, and was not toxic.

Streets in the area have been shut down. These include Mass. Ave, Boylston Street, Dalton Street, Belvedere Street and the Prudential Tunnel.

Several Green Line stations in the area were closed due to the fire.


At least one person was transported to Boston Medical Center to be treated for smoke inhalation.

Boston Police and emergency responders are urging the public not to come to the area.

Aerial Video Of Fire

Comments (80)
  1. Jack The Man says:

    I live in Dedham and can see the plume of smoke drifting Southward.

  2. Brent says:

    I love how you took a 30 second story, which is summarized here in a short read – and dragged it out on TV for 20 minutes. How many times can you say that there is a lot of smoke, and that the area is a busy area? No kidding – it’s Back Bay Boston.
    Thanks for cutting off the end of my program.

    1. Tsal says:

      The smoke is toxic. Story it inconvenienced you

  3. Jim says:

    Enough about the fire. Go back to regular programing.

  4. Joe says:

    Just put Jeopardy back on already!

  5. Sam says:

    I appreciate the severity of this situation but for the love of God, we’ve heard enough already! Let’s say the same things over and over again that really are not that important. “Now tell me, can you smell the smoke??” Who cares!! It’s toxic, get off the street! Thanks for making me miss wheel of fortune and Jeopardy.

    1. jgkldfj says:

      You are so negative!!!

  6. Tsal says:

    Good grief. It’s a terrible day when you can’t watch jeopardy – which by the way I watch every night. I’d much rather have people aware but then it is probably more important to watch regular programming.

  7. Kevin says:

    NCIS please. Boston is over 2 hours away….

  8. DP says:

    Thank you for posting this. My daughter is a college student who lives in Back Bay. She texted me a little while ago and said the power/phones are out and can I find out what is going on. I am in Connecticut and appreciate this information.I cannot reach her now and I understand why.

    1. Tsal says:

      Dp my son is also in the area. I was able to notify him. If there is askarel in the oil it will be very toxic. Hopefully they have pulled a recent test on the transformer and are being overly cautious. The announcers say its good it is going toward the river. Nothing is good if it is toxic until the air dilutes it

    2. another mom says:

      They can’t call in and you can’t call out. apparently the t isn’t stopping in the area and several roads are closed. They can text though.

  9. christine says:

    What a bunch of selfish jerks… You must love your life.

  10. christine says:

    Wheel of Fortune? Jeopardy? You’ve got to be kidding me!

    What a bunch of selfish jerks… You must just love your little pathetic lives!

  11. VL99 says:

    I too thank you for posting this. I’m sorry people missed Jeopardy and such, but thanks to this information I was able to inform a friend who lives in the Back Bay what is going on. I am in NYC.

  12. Anna says:

    My dad was near the fire when the power was out, and hes trying to get in the hotel. You people are selfish jerks. People could get seriously hurt but all you care about is the wheel of fortune.

  13. Maureen says:

    Thank you for posting information about the fire. This is so helpful. I’m way across the continent in California and concerned about my daughter who lives in BackBay and I can’t reach her. I’m so sorry for anyone who has been hurt or had to breathe in that smoke. Many thanks to the fine Boston Fire Department who are risking their health to protect everyone – I’m very grateful to them.

  14. Colin says:

    VERY thankful that you broke in to programming to cover this – WBZ was the only station that did. I live nearby & was wondering what the heck was going on. Then, they cut all the power to tens of thousands of people and we have manhole covers exploding. Yes, this merited breaking in to coverage. Sorry you lost Jeopardy and Wheel. I bet anything that you’ll be able to see it again tomorrow and it’ll be virtually the same thing. Thank you, WBZ, for actually covering news. (unlike NECN, oddly, which is still in taped coverage).

    1. Tsal says:

      Whdh and wcvb have also been breaking in. And I agree I’m very happy they did and continue to

  15. Tsal says:

    Whdh is reporting that the smoke is not toxic. Hopefully that is correct and it is good news.

  16. Steve says:

    This is like the Towering Inferno

    1. Get a life Bostonians says:

      Accept there is no tower – and its hardly an inferno.

      1. Chip says:

        Accept……how about Except ?????

  17. Get a life Bostonians says:

    OK – Everybody just settle down – it’s a fire – and it has caused electrical disruption – you’ll all be OK – I realize that if the government is telling you how to panic and when that you are lost – but you’re going to be alright.

    1. Tsal says:

      And what do you know about transformer oils. Do you know enogh to understand that if there were askarel in the transformer that it would be extremely toxic. For a normal person that is not just a fire. Perhaps that says it all…….normal.

      1. Get a life Bostonians says:

        Apparently more than you – you are confusing Askarel(R), which is by definition, toxic, but not the end of the world. You are cnofusing Askarel(R) in its native state with PCB contaminated Askarel(R) oil solutions.

        One must take precautions, but there is no need to panic. The BFD knows there stuff, they understand transformer fires, and the understand the risks and how to mitigate those risks. They deal with these things all the time.

        Finally – you are correct, for a ‘normal’ person, that is not ‘just’ a fire – but that is why ‘normal’ people are not firefighters and that is why the police set up control lines to keep the general public out of the event area – in part for their own safety, but more so for the safety of the firefighters. Normal people, as you ‘call’ them – can do some really stupid things; such as irrationally panic before having calmly and logically thought through a situation before reacting.

      2. Tsal says:

        Husband who tests NSTAR oil has been amused bynlack of understanding until now At the moment he s laughing . He wants to know how the BFD and police will contain the smoke.

      3. Tsal says:

        He wants to know if you are aware askarel is PCB. Askarel is simply a Monsanto name. Different countries. Different names. He’s still laughing although he doesn’t find anything about the situation amusing. Just the need to watch jeopardy and then minimize the concern.

      4. Get a life Bostonians says:

        No offense, but your knowledge of Askarel appears limited – Askarel is NOT a PCB – however Askarel has been found to be contaminated, in several instances, with PCB – which as we know…
        Point being – you don’t know the situation on the ground, you don’t have the facts, and therefore you should not be sounding the alarm bell like some lunatic. Do not act irrsponsibility and put out all this garbage about the sky is falling when you have no clue what is going on. Your ability to conjuer up a worst case scenario is admirable – but not useful outside of drama class.

      5. Tsal says:

        My husband said to stop reading wiki. Askarel is a monsanto trade name for PCB. There are three main aeroclors (120 main). He’s gone from laughing to shaking his head

      6. tsalnew says:

        my husband said for me to stop posting so quickly – I reversed aeroclor and askarel above

      7. Haggerty75 says:

        Transformers havent been using askarel for a bit now, its mineral oil now, nontoxic, as the story states. Not sure why wbz would report it to be toxic, nstar would know if this one is toxic or not, especially with the testing they do on them. BFD also isnt there to contain any smoke what so ever, they are there to do what the do, put the fire out. And if your dumb enough to stand around and breath all that smoke in thats your own fault. Thats why the firemen have scott packs.

  18. Greg says:

    A huge area is without power . and toxic smoke pouring into the streets near prudential. Traffic backed up for miles and the T skipping all the stops around this area. And a Motrcycle cop saying to get out of here and stop breathing the smoke, its toxic. No big deal just another day in Boston

  19. Mike says:

    Wow. My wife is in the middle of this mess, and I’m VERY glad to be getting information. P.S. — I’m a biochemist, and transformer oils have (at least in times past) contained some very nasty compounds. However, obviously SOME people are so macho that they’re immune to science.

    I’ve had no trouble talking to my wife by cell phone, and everything appears to be fine. They’re in a hotel with ten floors of guests stacked into the lobby, waiting to see whether they get the power back on.

    1. Tsal says:

      They still do Mike. Depending on their age. My understanding is that it is unlikely these transformers contains askarels but the standard procedure would be to ere on the side of caution. Hopefully that is the case. I wonder how macho some of these people here would be if their wife or loved one were in the area. I suspect if missing jeopardy upset them they’d have a whole different outlook. I’d hope at least jeopary means less than a family member.

    2. Get a life Bostonians says:

      Mike – as a bio-chemist you have hit the nail on the head – and I’ll break it down for some…
      In the past…
      transformer oils have contained…
      some…very nasty compounds..

      So we have historical evidence, the some transformer oils have contained, but not always, very nasty compounds.
      I would argue that burning oil, be in transformer or otherwise, has the potential to be harmful – so it is not a matter of this potential oil fire, this is true of all oil fires, but this has a higher localized ‘risk’ and therefore requries appropriate precautionary steps by the fire, police, and hazmat teams.

      So to help with your argument for some of the citizens who want facts and not panic bombs – we can state:
      fact: there have have been previous transformer fires
      fact: some transformers have highly toxic properties
      fact: some transformers do not have highly toxic properties
      fact: some transformer fires have involved transformers with toxic chemicals
      fact; some transformer fires ahve involved transformers without toxic chemicals
      conclusion: No clue to the constitution of this particular transfomer fire, therefore no statement can be made that this is pouring toxic chemicals all over the people of Boston and that they should run for their lives.

      1. Mike says:

        Well and fairly stated. I misinterpreted the intent of an earlier statement, and was needlessly snarky. My apologies, and thanks for the clarification.

        My wife just called to say that there are more guests in affected hotels than places to move them. They were given food and water, and a couple of glo-sticks, and sent up to bed. The emergency lights are working in the hallways, and everything seems to be very safe and orderly. This situation was VERY well handled by the good folks in Boston. Thanks!

      2. tsalnew says:

        fact – if you do not know you take all necessary precautions – look up what happens if there are PCBs in the oil then tell me that it is no big deal.

        Sad as it may be, your solution is since there is no proof – just let it pour into the air. I don’t believe anyone said run for your lives. I believe they said take precuations. How stupid of them.

      3. TheNewBostonianLife says:

        TsalNew – if that is your real new name… (lol – laugh a little)
        I never said to not take precaution – what I said was that the police and fire people know what they are doing – and therefore they WILL take the necessary precautions on control lines, evacuations, and the like – what I dislike is when people start spreading information that is not factual in nature – that is not taking precaution – that is spreading panic – you are creating a situation that does not exist – and some people may read that in haste and regurgitate it elsewhere as fact.

        And – another fault in your logic – quote “your solution is since there is no proof – just let it pour into the air” – that was not my solution – that is an unpreventable fact – smoke has this nasty habit of going into the air – weird, I know – And again – you – “YOU” – don’t know what is in that smoke, or what direction it is going, or the other myriad variable of importance – thefore you shouldn’t comment on the potential horros of it all, and “oh, my goodness, I hope it isn’t this evil stuff, because if it is….oh my goodnes…”

        Relax – listen – assess – have good facts –

    3. Get a life Bostonians says:

      Good news is that they seem to reporting with some levels of confirmation that the oil was mineral oil – so not toxic like the askarel oil – but burns like the dickens… Which actually was the first early clue that this was probably not the toxic mess feared by some. One reason mineral oil was often avoided over others such as askarel, is it flamability – and why, in particular they prefer to avoid mineral oil in enclosed spaces such as this one.

      1. tsalnew says:

        Most transformers use mineral oil now. The askarel oil was invented to replace the mineral b/c of it’s high flammability. Some are now using alternatives to mineral oil such as Bio Temp, FR3 or soy but they are not perfected so it’s not terribly common. Mineral oil can be contaminated with askarel;however, it is not common since most have been changed over. Also, it would be less likely to find askarel in a transformer in a city-type area than a rural area. The oil will be tested for dissolved gas which will give an indication of why the fire started (e.g., overheating, arcing, corona).

        I saw that one poster said NSTAR took too long to arrive and that may be true but at least they had the records/data on the transformer to be able to quickly determine whether it was toxic. A lot of utilities don’t keep the records as well as they should.

  20. Greg says:

    I heard over the scanner that 64,000 gallons of this oil was on site. And also heard on the scanner that they were waiting for the EPA to arrive???

    1. Tsal says:

      That’s a normal amount and EPA may well make things worse ;)

  21. paula weiss says:

    left 20 park plaza office building into total darkness, seriously eerie, visibility is very impacted. Pedestrians be careful, very hard to see while driving!

  22. Smales says:

    Thanks for reminding me why I never watch TV news. WBZ broke into Jeopardy and blathered on for 20 minutes with a story they could have told in 2 minutes. “There’s a fire in the Back Bay that is creating toxic smoke. Close your windows and stay out of the area.” End of story, back to the program you tuned in to watch. But no, we need helicopter footage of blinking lights, anchors trying to create drama and reporters on cell phones speculating about facts they don’t have. That’s TV news nowadays. All that was missing was the interview of the hysterical “man on the street”. I don’t want news at 7:40 pm. If you have a warning about a dangerous, put it on a scroll and leave alone the program everyone has chosen to watch. Don’t be the Chicken Little network.

    1. TheNewBostonianLife says:

      Ever since Dicky predicted the blizzard of ’78….

  23. inthedark says:

    It would be helpful to know the full area of the outage–which streets, which blocks–or just post a map where they cut the grid. Thank you.

  24. Maureen says:

    I appreciate Berklee College of music has called me twice now with information on the fire because my daughter is a student there. They kept her and other students in a building until smoke was less thick. She called and walked home in eerier darkness and haze. It is hard to be far away when this happens, but I think the college and fire department are handling it really well. I appreciate the news coverage too!

    1. alicia says:

      my brother goes to Northeastern. It’s a bit further from hilton compared to berklee, but they have power outage, too. His dorm is the border where they shut the power. NU has its soccer indoor field set up with tents and mattress for the students who are evacuated from their dorms and can’t find anywhere else to live (since most students will live in the same area close to the school). If anything happens with your daughter and her friends, I’m pretty sure that next door school will help to have them sheltered. That if you can contact her in any way.

      1. Maureen says:

        Thank you so much Alicia — that’s helpful to know. I hope your brother does O.K., maybe the students will make the best of sleeping on the soccer field. Hope it is not too cold.

  25. alicia says:

    I know that repeated news are irritating. But I will never seriously consider Jeopardy and other shows to be placed over any disaster. Even if this happens far from where I live, there is someone’s beloved person is in there or working at this fire or his or her dad is a police officer. How could anyone so selfish to care about Jeopardy and spit it out bluntly? Just imagine your loved one is trapped in the elevator where the next door building is on fire?

    1. tsalnew says:

      You are of course correct Alicia – and everyone who has understood exactly what the purpose of the interrupted programming was..

      WBZ and other radio stations did a terrific job in getting word out to avoid breathing the smoke, in broadcasting the reasons for the outage (since many affected had no idea there was a fire), and in getting word to family and friends who are not living in the area.

  26. Matthew says:

    I am going to be the first to say it. NSTAR IS TO BLAME. I was listening to the scanner and the District Chief repeatedly requested NSTAR ASAP. After waiting 30 Minutes for them to arrive heavy fire began blowing out the building and everyone was pulled back.

    1. alicia says:

      So wait, they knew sth was wrong before the alarm and fire went out? Sorry if I misunderstood your post.

  27. zaug says:

    well, you know what they say about TV, the more you watch, the less you know….

  28. j & T says:

    My son and I were in the middle of it all and luckily managed to grab a cab and once out of the gridlock got out of the city to our car in a commuter lot. (Good strategy for the future). We left everything in our hotel room and our hotel (Copley Marriott) went black 5 minutes after we left it. Then all of Newbury st to the commons and beyond went black minutes later. There was a huge cloud of the blackest smoke I’ve ever seen billowing above coming our way and sirens, people and cars everywhere trying to get somewhere. My 13 yr old and I were so grateful to get out. We were still shaken as we drove 2 hours back home.

    My only advice would be to have better emergency communication with hotels and local establishments to evacuate so no one gets caught in elevators, etc. There should be a post for all to check. The hotel knew very little. We didn’t know if it was a terrorist attack(especially with the horrible recent killings in Afghanistan) local foul play or a manageable fire.

    1. tsalnew says:

      It’s only natural for your thoughts to run the gambit when faced with something like that – especially with the fear of terrorist attack that we face. And even more so when you have a 13 year old with you. That’s why – among other reasons – I was glad the TV stations kept it covered.

      When in Boston and surrounding area I see the evacuation route signs and shake my head. There would be gridlock – but then that would be the case I suppose with any major city. Glad you are all right.

  29. 1stackmack says:

    those generators or gen sets as there called.power comes from caterpillar diesel power about 1200 hp,hold 1000 gallons of fuel.that fuel doesn’t last long.same engines that power off road mining trucks.1000 gallons a day times 50 gen sets,at $4.09 a gallon.thats $204,500 a day.1 gen set is around $250,000.l hope they don’t pass the buck over to us.glad no one got hurt.

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