As flames tore through the Allston building Wednesday night, 14-year-old Clayton Martins ran into his family’s first-floor apartment to find his 3-year-old sister, Andressa. The moments before he emerged carrying the little girl seemed an eternity for their mother, Elisangela Martins, who had been sitting in a car with Clayton when they saw smoke billowing from the building and a window shatter from the power of the fire raging inside.
Before long, she was reunited with her husband as well, after he jumped off the rear porch to escape the blaze.
“If they had not been able to get out . . . ” Elisangela, a Brazilian immigrant, said of her family through a translator, her voice trailing off.
The four joined a growing crowd of shaky residents and bystanders, watching as firefighters battled the nine-alarm fire consuming their home at 12 Harvard Terrace.
No serious injuries were reported in the fire that broke out just before 6 p.m. Wednesday. Officials are still investigating what caused the fast-moving fire, which started on a rear porch on a ground floor and spread upward, causing the roof to collapse, said Steve MacDonald, a Fire Department spokesman.
Seven people, including five firefighters, suffered minor injuries, were treated at a hospital, and were released. Some 54 residents were displaced. About 18 were put up in a hotel Wednesday night by the Red Cross, said Brendan Stack, a disaster recovery manager for the group. Others stayed with area friends and relatives.
Twelve Harvard Terrace is one of three sections of the building battered by the fire. The two other sections of the brick building, 8 and 16 Harvard Terrace, suffered some damage from smoke and water used to put out the fire.
A day later, the smell of smoke lingered in the air as the Martins family and dozens of others stood outside the charred remains of their building, hoping they would be allowed to retrieve clothes, medication, and valuables.
But only those who lived in 8 and 16 Harvard Terrace were allowed to retrieve their things Thursday afternoon because officials feared the other section of the building was unstable.
Many of the residents are immigrants and had to abandon important legal documents and valuables — for some, life savings.
Elisangela said she feared the family’s passports, birth certificates, and other important papers were destroyed in the fire. The same worry plagued Honduran immigrants Simeon Paz, 30, and his wife. They lived a floor above the Martins and had left behind their passports, birth certificates, and the Social Security card of their 2-year-old daughter, a US citizen.
A box holding most of their savings, thousands of dollars’ worth of cash and jewelry, was still in their bedroom when they ran from work to find their building in flames. But their daughter was safe in the hands of the baby-sitter who had run outside when she smelled smoke.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen now,” Paz said as he shared a salad with his wife and their daughter. He later pleaded with the city workers to let him in to get what was left in their apartment.
As the afternoon wore on, boxes of pizza and bottles of water were passed around among the residents. Two city officials called out the numbers of apartments, one at a time, indicating that their inhabitants could pass the police blockade to get their essential possessions. Neighbors helped one another carry items and comforted those who wept or teared up.
Courtney Snegroff, of the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians, spent the day translating Portuguese and Spanish for anxious residents who needed to communicate with city officials. In the morning, she and an agent from the Brazilian Consulate interviewed residents to gauge their needs and see how they could help them replace lost legal documents, she said.
Despite the fire and the despair it brought, some managed to find a reason to smile.
Many of the Brazilians who lived there kept birds, said 28-year-old Renato Ribeiro and other residents.
“It’s like a farm back there,” he said in English, after Elisangela mentioned the parakeet and rooster they kept on their back porch perished.
Two neighbors playfully teased her because their pets had survived.
“My poor birds,” Elisangela replied to them, looking as if she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Seconds later, she and her son were laughing, happy they did not have to mourn anyone in their family or in the building.Oliver Ortega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ByOliverOrtega.