CHELSEA — Wind blew smoke from the black, charred remains of El Dorado Bakery on Congress Avenue. The shop that once churned out Colombian bread, meat, and pastries stood destroyed, its roof collapsed.
The bakery succumbed to a fire early Thursday morning. Hours later, the air around the building remained perfumed by the stench of ash.
Across the street, a kind-looking man with tears in his bloodshot eyes stood, glum and silent, staring at what was one of the first Colombian bakeries in Massachusetts.
Carlos Camacho, 53, opened the bakery with his father and brother 26 years ago. He closed the shop about 9 p.m. Wednesday, and when he returned to open the bakery at 4 a.m., fire trucks from Chelsea, Everett, and Revere were outside, his building in flames.
Each day, the people of Chelsea had poured into the bakery for their helping of coffee, bread, and empanadas — a taste of home, in truth.
Fire officials said the two-alarm blaze broke out at 3:24 a.m. A cause had not been determined Thursday. Twenty neighbors were evacuated for a short period of time when firefighters feared the blaze might spread. No one was injured.
A yellow sign above the front door that once read "El Dorado Bakery" was shattered. The glass windows were blown in. Everything that was safe in the bakery the day before was sundered now. The only thing spared by the fire was a pay phone that stood in front of the one-story building.
"We don't know what happened," said Camacho, who came to America from Colombia 31 years ago. The family opened the bakery so they wouldn't have to travel to New York for Colombian bread.
"Why don't we open a bakery here?" Camacho remembers saying decades ago. "We basically grew up here . . . It was a family thing."
Camacho lives in Saugus now and has run the bakery at 18 Congress Ave. since his brother's death and his father's return to Columbia. Some of Camacho's nieces and nephews work with him.
Fred Escobar, who lives in Chelsea, had been standing outside since 6 or 7 a.m.
"I go there every morning," Escobar said. Now that El Dorado is burnt down, he will have to find his morning coffee elsewhere.
Esau Meja Morales, who lives at 24 Congress Ave., said he enjoys the bread from the bakery.
"It's very good bread," Morales said. Inside his apartment early Thanksgiving morning, he could smell a hint of smoke.
It had been so different just a day earlier. As the holiday approached, El Dorado had been bustling.
"It's a busy time of year," Camacho said. "We had a lot of orders of turkeys" for Thanksgiving, he said, rarely taking his eyes off the bakery's wreckage as he spoke.
Chelsea's often congested streets were even busier Thursday. Congress Avenue is the fastest way to the Tobin Bridge, and with the street blocked by police cars and a fire truck, traffic snarled Park Street.
Camacho said that he leases the space, and that rebuilding is up to the owner, who has to wait for an answer from the building inspector before moving forward.
In the meantime, Camacho will try to operate the bakery from 14 Congress Ave., a small space he owns on the corner of the street.
"We have to stay here," Camacho said. "We have nowhere else."