WALTHAM — Hours after an early morning fire tore through her block, Guillermina Vara walked up to the garden in her front yard and reached into the dirt. Standing against the charred facade of her home, she emerged with a white pot full of flowers.
She sat on a neighbor’s porch Wednesday afternoon in tears, picking burnt stems off the roses.
“Those flowers represent her mother,” Vara’s brother-in-law Salomon Meza said Wednesday. “When she passed away, her brother gave her this flower arrangement.”
Across the street stood the skeleton of Vara’s home, the roof gone, a smashed air-conditioning unit in the front yard. Next door, charred wooden beams were piled where a house once stood. A kitchen oven sat intact atop the rubble.
The house’s roof lay below it.
Fire officials said the four-alarm blaze began about 3:15 a.m. in the uninhabited wood-frame house at 47 Charles Street, which had been undergoing renovations.
The blaze sent one firefighter to the hospital with minor injuries. At least six structures were damaged, including the destroyed and heavily damaged home, an industrial storage house, an auto shop, and a church.
No injuries to residents were reported, said Waltham Deputy Fire Chief Cliff Richardson. Witnesses said they heard explosions and saw a ball of flames as firefighters arrived.
“The whole house was like a big, blowing ball,” said Erin Hire, who lives nearby on Fountain Street.
Hire said she woke up and saw the steeple of Trinity Church glowing orange through her window. That was when she knew something was wrong.
She described the scene Wednesday morning as chaotic. She recalled that a firefighter collapsed from what seemed like exhaustion in front of a ladder truck.
“He was saying he couldn’t breathe,” she said.
Crews cut power to many neighborhood homes for safety reasons. Electricity returned by late morning to some buildings, but not those in the immediate area of the fire.
The fire left the Chrysler minivan of a Paul’s Auto Body customer totaled. The blaze melted the tail light off another. Manager Vitaly Fedosik said he was shocked to see the extent of the damage when he arrived, about 8 a.m. The shop was without power Wednesday afternoon. The corner of the building had been skewed, melted by the flames.
“What the hell, what happened?” Fedosik remembered thinking. “They said if the wind took it any farther the whole block would have been gone.”
Lily Fernandez said she woke her children, 5 and 15, when she heard an explosion and yelling a couple houses away. “People were saying ‘get out, get out’” she said. “There was fire everywhere.”
The exact number of displaced residents is unknown, Fire Lieutenant Scott Perry said
The cause was unknown. The state fire marshal’s office and Waltham Fire Department were investigating Wednesday.
Firefighters from Waltham, Newton, and Weston remained at the scene putting out hot spots through late morning.