QUINCY — A four-alarm fire raged for hours at Quincy’s historic Masonic temple Monday afternoon, gutting the interior and destroying centuries of artifacts.
According to Deputy Fire Chief Jeffrey Starr, renovation crews working a grinding tool in the basement of the 87-year-old building sparked the fire at around noon. Though crews tried to combat the fire with a garden hose, they were unsuccessful and called 911.
When crews arrived, Starr said, the flames were licking the second floor.
“This place is like a vault . . . doors all shut, couldn’t get to it,” he said of battling the fire. When fire responders discovered the ceiling was at risk of collapsing, they left the building and worked on aerial ladders from the outside.
The ceiling collapsed soon afterward, and dripping tar was visible though the broken windows. The soot-covered limestone-façade may possibly be saved, said Fire Chief Joseph Barron, but the remainder of the building most likely is a total loss.
Every piece of Quincy fire equipment responded to the fire, alongside several crews from Boston. Weymouth, Braintree, Milton, and Randolph covered nearby stations.
No injuries were reported, but traffic was diverted around the Hancock Street structure for hours, and some streets will probably be closed for days, Starr said.
According to Masonic officials, the sale of the building to Martin Realty was pending, with nearly $3 million being offered for the structure. The Masons were renovating the basement with hope of relocating there.
The organization’s historic aprons, Masonic jewels, photos, and records also went up in flames. “Two hundred years worth of history, gone,” said David Elsner, president of the Temple Association, which owns the building.
Elsner said the organization had insurance, though he was not sure how much it would cover.
Like Elsner, Jacob Yanovich, a presiding officer of the local chapter of Masons, said the organization would prevail.
“The lodge isn’t the building you meet in; it’s the members who meet there,” he said. “This is just another chapter in its history, but it’s hard to see.”
The Masons will meet in a lodge in Weymouth in the interim.
Lovers of history in the area lamented the loss, including City Clerk Joe Shea and Howard Jacobs, who owns Toodie’s Fine Jewelry across from the temple and had gone into the building as a child with his father.
Though the building is wrapped in limestone, David Abbott, a member of the local chapter since 1973, said he was not surprised that the building went up so quickly, because the interior wood paneling and old, wooden rafters were prime kindling.
Fire Department personnel said they would remain on scene throughout the evening to monitor the building, and engineers will come Tuesday to take a full assessment of the damage.
Regardless of the damage, Leo Martin, owner of Quincy Adams Building Corp., which was doing the work on the building, said he was optimistic the building could be restored.
“The historic façade will be maintained, and everything will be brought back to use,” he said.