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40 people displaced in 7-alarm Back Bay fire

(Boston Globe) A seven-alarm fire ripped thru the top 2 floors of the building at 31 Massachusetts Ave. Video by Jay Connor for The Boston Globe
(Boston Globe) A seven-alarm fire ripped thru the top 2 floors of the building at 31 Massachusetts Ave. Video by Jay Connor for The Boston Globe
Fire ripped through the top two floors of the apartment building at 31 Massachusetts Ave.Jay Connor for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

A seven-alarm fire ravaged several stories of a Back Bay apartment building Saturday afternoon, injuring three firefighters, displacing 40 residents, and snarling traffic for hours.

The blaze, caused by careless disposal of smoking materials, began around 2 p.m. on the fifth floor of the six-story building at 31 Massachusetts Ave. in the Back Bay, according to the Boston Fire Department. Fire soon spread to the sixth floor, and flames could be seen shooting out of shattered windows. About 150 firefighters ultimately responded and knocked the blaze down a little more than an hour after it started.

Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said three firefighters were treated for injuries at local hospitals: one for smoke inhalation, one for a burn to his neck, and one for a wrist injury.


Officials said the building is one of about 50 in the city that are grandfathered in under old regulations that did not require sprinklers in every area of the building.

At the scene, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he would meet with state legislators to discuss making those buildings safer.

Walsh said fire officials told him “when the legislation was done to make sure that we put sprinklers in all the buildings of Boston, there [were] some exemptions, and this is one of [them]. So we’re going to look at this now and talk to the Legislature and see if we have to file something to catch these other buildings.”

Flames could be seen from outside of the Back Bay apartment building.Boston Fire Department

The building’s alarm system functioned properly and residents were able to evacuate before any were injured.

“I just thought it was a smoke alarm, but then you could smell the smoke and you could hear the water coming out of the sprinklers,” said Samuel Dawson, 26, who was in his third-floor apartment when the fire began.

Dawson said he has lived in the building for two years, and that all of his belongings were inside his apartment. He stood across the street with his roommate, watching firefighters come in and out of his building. He pointed out water streaming down the building’s facade.


“Obviously, we’re concerned about water damage,” he said.

“It’s good to see the other residents coming out immediately and that no one was getting rescued,” he added.

The building, which contains 30 apartments, will be uninhabitable for the foreseeable future, said Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald.

MacDonald said efforts to fight the fire were complicated by narrow stairwells and a lack of standpipes, which allow firefighters to connect hoses to pipes in the building and avoid lugging hoses up multiple flights of stairs.

MacDonald said the mayor’s office, Red Cross, and the Fire Department’s Victims Assistance Unit would help displaced residents find a new place to live. Residents were allowed to retrieve essential belongings.

Damage was estimated at $2.5 million, MacDonald said.

Police blocked off roads surrounding the scene as firefighters worked, causing backups that stretched across the Harvard Bridge, which carries Massachusetts Avenue over the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge.

Globe correspondent Andrew Doerfler contributed to this report. Dan Adams can be reached at dadams@globe.com. Find him on Twitter at @DanielAdams86. Alyssa Creamer can be reached at alyssa.creamer@globe.com.