Cold causes burst pipes, fires in Mass.

Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
People walk down Boylston Street a day after a nor’easter. Temperatures were ithe low single digits and a minus degree wind chill factor.

With the state mostly dug out from the season’s first big snowstorm, Massachusetts was confronting widespread damage on Saturday caused by bitingly cold temperatures, including a rash of burst pipes, water main breaks, and house fires that have displaced more than a hundred people since New Year’s Eve.

Temperatures in Boston over Friday night into Saturday morning plunged to 2 degrees, but that was relatively balmy compared to overnight lows of minus-16 in Norwood and minus-12 in Taunton.

The bitter cold prompted deep concerns about the homeless and their vulnerability outdoors to hypothermia and frostbite. Boston’s Pine Street Inn has overflowed with homeless Thursday and Friday nights, with up to 64 people sleeping on cots in overflow areas of the shelter, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Harris. The shelter called in extra staff members and extended the operating hours of its outreach vans.


“We won’t send anybody away in these conditions,” she said. “If we reach our bed capacity, we make room in the lobby, we set up cots and mats. Having a warm place to stay is vital.”

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh, who is set to take office from outgoing longtime Mayor Thomas M. Menino Monday, visited Pine Street Inn on Saturday to lend a hand.

“Any night, but especially these frigid nights, it’s such an important resource to our city,” Walsh said of the shelter.

Boston Emergency Medical Services spokesman Nick Martin said ambulances transported at least eight patients suffering from exposure to the cold to local hospitals Friday and Saturday.

Relief from arctic conditions is imminent, with rain and highs of 40 and 50 degrees projected for Sunday and Monday. But colder conditions will return quickly, with the National Weather Service forecasting a temperature plunge back into the teens on Tuesday.


“It’s going to be a roller coaster,” said meteorologist Bill Simpson. “The melting [Sunday and Monday] won’t cause any river flooding, but if the drains aren’t cleared by Tuesday’s commute, we could have issues with freezing puddles on the roadway.”

MBTA service was disrupted Saturday morning when cold-sensitve equipment failed. The flight schedule at Logan International Airport was returning to normal Saturday after delays caused by the snowstorm, a Massport spokesman said.

Expanding ice in frozen water pipes caused extensive damage to homes, hospitals, and businesses across the state.

An underground, high-pressure fire pipe at 37 Bowdoin St. in downtown Boston burst Saturday afternoon, sending a torrent of water and large chunks of gravel into the street. The ensuing flood caused the roadway to partially collapse, forcing police to close the road. Traffic backed up as cars were diverted onto narrow side streets on Beacon Hill.

The cause of the break was not immediately clear, said Boston Water and Sewer Commission spokeswoman Danielle Domingos, but bitterly cold temperatures caused many pipes to burst around the region Saturday. Commission workers were expected to work on repairing the Bowdoin Street pipe and road overnight.


Regular water service to nearby buildings was not interrupted, since the pipe that broke is only used for fire suppression systems in a nearby building, Domingos said.

Kristin Kelly, general manager of the nearby Grotto restaurant, had to close the establishment when Bowdoin Street was shut to traffic.

It was yet another blow in a week that already saw the restaurant lose heat during the snowstorm.

“Saturday is one of our busiest nights,” she sighed. “Not opening is less than ideal.”

A flood at 36 Harrison Ave. in Chinatown about noon leaked water into the building’s heating system, causing it to smoke, said Boston Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald. The acrid smoke poured through ductwork, forcing an evacuation of the building’s eight apartments and sending nine firefighters to the hospital with respiratory problems.

A spokesman for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown said a sprinkler at the new building burst Saturday morning, but there was no permanent damage. A similar sprinkler rupture at the South Shore Hospital in Weymouth forced the facility to turn away incoming ambulances for 15 minutes.

In Lawrence, 35 residents who were displaced by a burst pipe in an apartment building spent the day at a Red Cross warming center.

Officials also cited the weather for a spike in house fires. Red Cross spokeswoman Kat Powers said at least 115 people have been displaced by house fires since New Year’s Eve.

Officials said many of the fires were caused when cold residents tried to heat their homes with ovens or space heaters left too close to combustible material. Others were caused when homeowners tried to thaw frozen pipes with high-heat torches and instead ignited insulation.

A fire in Quincy that caused extensive damage to a single-family house and sent several residents to the hospital was caused by a “vintage” space heater being operated inside a three-season porch, said state Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan.

“We’ve had an increasing number of fires because of the cold weather,” he said. “Most are related to heating situations.”

Coan said fires in the towns of Ashfield, Conway, Oakham badly damaged three houses and injured at least one resident. The cold weather and lack of a municipal water supply made fighting those blazes arduous, he said.

“Firefighting is a dangerous enough job in the best of weather, but it’s an extremely difficult job in bad weather,” Coan said, urging residents to avoid improvised heating sources and to leave faucets dripping to avoid burst pipes.

Globe correspondents Anne Steele, Derek Anderson, and Alyssa Creamer contributed to this report. Dan Adams can be reached at Find him on Twitter at @DanielAdams86.