CAMBRIDGE (CBS) — Burned-out cars and partially-destroyed buildings made up the scene of devastation that awaited residents Sunday after a massive 10-alarm fire tore through a Berkshire Street neighborhood the day before.
As of Sunday night, crews were demolishing some of the structures due to a fear of collapse.
“We do we have a concern for a number of the buildings potentially collapsing but we haven’t determined which ones at this point. So we’ve established our safe zone,” Cambridge Deputy Fire Chief Tom Cahill said.
By the light of day on Sunday, the devastation was shocking: charred and blackened homes lining the street. Over 100 people are homeless as a result of the fire.
Fire officials said the blaze, the largest Cambridge has seen since the 1980s, had been contained for a few hours as of Sunday morning, but crews were still working on putting out hot spots in two buildings. More than 60 people were displaced.
Deputy Fire Chief Cahill said the fire affected up to fifteen buildings, one of which was totally consumed by flames before the first firefighters arrived.
One building collapsed “almost immediately” after firefighters responded Saturday.
Incredibly, nobody was reported to be seriously injured. Cambridge Fire Chief Gerald Reardon said Saturday night that it was “miraculous” that nobody died.
Charred cars were being removed from Berkshire Street late Sunday morning. Cambridge Police said around 1:30 p.m. that Berkshire, Vandine, and York Streets, as well as York Place, were all closed to vehicles.
Cahill detailed the difficulties firefighters had in responding to the fire.
“It’s a tight neighborhood, tight streets, the buildings are very close together, so when you have a fire that large, prior to the first truck arriving, the cards are stacked against us from the get-go,” he said. “It was windy, that’s what carried the fire across the street.”
Firefighters were called in from Newton, Waltham, Wakefield, and multiple other towns, but Cahill said that, by Sunday morning, all of the mutual aid responders had returned to their respective towns.
According to Eversource, 1,659 people in the area were without power at one point.
Eversource crews were still working to restore power to customers Sunday, and said that over 50 customers were left without power due to the damage to area buildings.
Now, officials are beginning the long process of finding out the cause of all the destruction. There are a number of eyewitnesses, but Cahill said they haven’t even started the interview process yet.
“There’s a combined investigation with State Police, Cambridge Police, and Cambridge Fire Department’s fire investigators,” he said. “We’re going to start that investigation within the next couple of hours, and it’s going to take quite a while to put this puzzle together.”
Many residents told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens Sunday morning that they believed a construction crew working on one house that was completely destroyed may have had something to do with it. One woman said she told them to stop working because it was too windy.
Investigators will interview witnesses. Many people told WBZ-TV they heard explosions. It’s something an entire neighborhood and a city will never forget.
“I heard a big explosion. I heard all the stuff collapsing. Then when I come here, I see all this smoke. And the building was totally down and all these houses were on fire the house across the street were on fire cars were on fire,” fire witness Tony Moreira told WBZ.
Returning to the area Sunday, Dana Fuller told Stevens he was still in shock.
“My family’s owned these houses for almost 100 years, and what do you do in a situation like this?” he said. “I’m just glad everybody’s safe. At the end of the day, all my family lives here and they’re all safe and sound, and everything can be replaced.”
Fuller said a construction worker knocked on his door frantically Saturday afternoon saying there was a fire. He called 911, and before he knew it, the whole block was on fire.
As people walked down to Berkshire Street Sunday morning, one woman told Stevens she brought her children to a daycare provider torn apart by the blaze every weekday.
“If this had happened on a weekday, it would have been so much worse,” she said. “It’s not just people’s homes, but their businesses, too. Our day care provider has lived in that house her entire life, and now it’s gone. It’s pretty devastating.”
Cahill said many residents reported their pets missing in the wake of the destruction.
“Up to this point, every pet that’s been missing, we’ve been able to recover, fortunately,” said Cahill.
Saturday night, Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons said the city is housing residents affected by the fire at the War Memorial Recreation Center at 1640 Cambridge St. The city has also started a relief fund for the victims. People can donate to the fund at Cambridgema.gov/firefund.
That fund had raised over $250,000, as of Sunday night.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens reports