CHARLESTOWN (CBS) – The conditions were brutal for Boston firefighters battling near zero temperatures; ice encrusted equipment and facing thick smoke and flames as they knocked down a fire on Bunker Hill Street in Charlestown.
Ten adults and one child were displaced by the blaze in the apartment building, while seven other residents who suffered smoke and water damage in a building behind them have also been temporarily displaced.
Max Liu, who owns Monument Laundromat on the first floor, lost everything. “When I first came here I saw the fire but it was too late, it’s too late,” said Liu who bought the business just two years ago.
The laundromat was featured in the 2010 Ben Affleck movie “The Town.”
Above his shop are six apartments on three floors. Some residents woke to the smell of smoke and it quickly grew into a powerful blaze. “We have to start with everything and we don’t know where to start,” said one resident.
Jennifer Sargent, grabbing some items of clothing, lives in the building behind the affected apartments and hard a faint fire alarm. She sounded her own alarm. “I banged on doors, woke up my husband, banged on neighbors’ doors to get everyone outside.”
Even with the winds, firefighters were able to surround the building and prevent the fire from spreading. Their job was more challenging with icy ladders, icy streets and even a frozen hydrant.
It was about five degrees outside with sub-zero wind chills. As a result, the water being used by firefighters was freezing onto equipment immediately.
Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn said the conditions have been brutal.
“Horrendous conditions. The cold is certainly a major factor today,” Finn said.
Lt. Steven Fairneny, his own gear stiff with ice, was with the first company. “I actually slipped a couple of times, I didn’t go down but the ice makes it more difficult,” he said. “There are still some frozen ladders we can’t get down.”
Some residents still in their pajamas were helped to safety by firefighters now trying to determine how it started.
Max Liu says everything seems fine when he closed up his shop the night before. “I check everything, that’s my job. I just don’t know.”
Christa Carrig said her husband couldn’t get to the couple’s Jeep Grand Cherokee in the morning because firefighters already had the street blocked off.
Later, while watching news coverage, they saw their SUV parked front and center, caked in ice.
“It looked like a Jeepsicle,” Carrig told WBZ.
After dark, crews finally towed the ice-encrusted vehicle from the scene. Until the ice melts, it is too difficult to tell if there is damage to the Jeep.
“We can replace the car,” Carrig said. “A lot of people down the street are having a much worse day than we are. Hopefully, everyone has a nice, warm place to stay.”
A Charlestown resident who goes by the nickname “Muff” marveled that his home of 33 years somehow remained unscathed. He told WBZ that investigators said if the fire had started an hour earlier, the winds had been whipping in the other direction.
“My house would’ve burned down,” he said. “It feels like I hit the lottery and I feel terrible for the people in the building next door. They lost everything.”
Mayor Marty Walsh also said it was fortunate the fire did not start any earlier. “Especially last night with the wind and the concern people had, it would have been tough. But it’s still tough conditions today,” Walsh said.
Around 10:15 p.m. several Boston Fire Department trucks showed up back at the scene, after hot spots smoldered up inside the building and smoke became visible from the roof. What once raged as a six-alarm fire, refusing to go quietly into the night.
It is not yet clear what started the fire.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens reports
WBZ-TV’s Ryan Kath and Beth Germano contributed to this report.