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Boston firefighters put out fire in area of Mass. and Cass encampment

Boston firefighters responded to a fire Wednesday morning the near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, officials said.

Mayor Michelle Wu and Boston Fire Commissioner John “Jack” Dempsey issued statements about the fire to the Globe on Wednesday night, but no details were released on when the blaze started, whether anyone was hurt, or what investigators believe caused it.

Requests for further comment were sent Thursday morning to Boston fire officials and to Wu’s office.

“The City recognizes and is responding to the humanitarian crisis at Mass Ave and Melnea Cass Boulevard,” Wu said. “That is why we are working urgently to create low-threshold, supportive housing options for the unsheltered individuals living in unsafe conditions in tents and encampments in the Mass Ave and Melnea Cass area.

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Wu added that she’s “deeply appreciative of the firefighters who responded to the fire in the area this (Wednesday) morning. We will remain vigilant and continue to monitor the situation with emergency services in the area.”

Dempsey said firefighters remain concerned about safety in the area.

“The Mass Cass area poses many hazards, one of which is fire,” Dempsey said. “The makeshift encampments have created unsafe conditions as they have no safety factors that are found in the building code or the fire code. The fire department has established a roving detail which patrols the area in order to prevent and remove any potential fire hazards before there is a problem.”

Dempsey said first responders also administer Narcan and first aid when needed.

“With the cold weather setting in there is a higher incidence of people trying to heat these tents and tarps,” Dempsey said. “We have participated in outreach with other city agencies to inform these occupants of the fire hazards present with temporary heat sources and open flames. While the city continues to work on appropriate housing for these individuals, the fire department will continue its efforts to mitigate any hazards found.”

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The encampment at Mass. and Cass has emerged as the epicenter of the city’s opioid and homelessness crises, with officials repeatedly declaring their intentions to find stable housing options for those living in the makeshift tents.

City officials say a recent survey of roughly 140 people who were sleeping in the 77 tents near the intersection showed that more than 95 percent said they would be willing to leave their tents for such housing, if it were available.

The survey, one of the first of its kind to be conducted publicly in Boston, also showed that although most of the people at the encampments around Mass. and Cass reported that they were battling a substance abuse disorder, only 23 percent said they were taking medication for their substance abuse; only half of them had a health care provider, and fewer had a mental health provider. Most respondents said they wanted such care.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.