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Cambridge firefighters contain 4-alarm fire; two buildings damaged

Firefighters battled a 4-alarm blaze on Hunting Street in Cambridge that heavily damaged at least two buildings Monday morning, officials said.
Firefighters are battling a 4-alarm blaze on Hunting Street in Cambridge that has heavily damaged at least two buildings Monday morning, officials said.

CAMBRIDGE — Nine families were left homeless after a 4-alarm blaze destroyed two buildings in Cambridge on Monday morning, officials said.

The building at 6 Hunting St. and the adjacent building at 851 Cambridge St. — which is home to the Sunset Cafe — both sustained major damage, and firefighters worked for hours in the bitter cold to put out the flames.

Acting Cambridge Fire Chief Gerard Mahoney said both buildings appear to be a total loss and will probably have to come down.

Mahoney said all of the residents were able to get out safely, and approximately 19 people were displaced as a result of the fire. One firefighter suffered a hand injury and had to get stitches, he said.

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“The fire rapidly spread,” he said.

Mahoney said there was heavy fire throughout the building and firefighters had to deal with cold temperatures, ice, and very smoky conditions.

Mahoney said both buildings are wood-frame structures that have undergone many alterations over the years. “They’re kind of chopped up inside, which made it difficult to get to the scene of the fire,” he said.

Plumes of gray, yellowish-brown smoke that spewed from the buildings could be seen over a mile away as firefighters fought the flames in frigid 24-degree weather. With the wind chill, it felt like the teens. Icicles formed on wires overhead and driveways and sidewalks were covered in ice as firefighters continued to douse the smoky fire with water.

Michael Down, 54, lives directly across from 6 Hunting St., and said he didn’t know anything was wrong until around 5:45 a.m., when the fire department showed up on his street. “They were all out here,” he said. “There was just a little smoke, and then it just ignited.”

Down stood outside of his home Monday morning, watching firefighters douse the buildings with water from every possible angle. He said he lost power in his home. His car was completely blocked in by fire trucks.

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According to Eversource, about 600 customers were without electricity Monday morning because power was shut off to the neighborhood as a safety precaution.

According to Broadcastify.com, a website that records the dispatch transmissions of public safety agencies, the Cambridge Fire Department received a call from a resident of 855 Cambridge St., which is an apartment located above the Sunset Cafe, at 12:36 a.m. complaining of an unknown odor. Firefighters from Engine 5 and Ladder 2 were dispatched to the buildings at the intersection of Cambridge and Hunting streets to investigate. They arrived on the scene at 12:41 a.m. Monday. Nine minutes later, Engine 5 reported to dispatch that they were leaving.

About four hours later, at 5:41 a.m., Cambridge firefighters were called back to the area again, but this time it was for a report of a structure fire.

Mahoney said upon arrival firefighters observed heavy smoke coming from the third floor and eaves of the roof of the building at 6 Hunting St., and they found fire on the first floor or basement area of that building, he said.

At 6:21 a.m. fire officials tweeted that all companies had evacuated the building. Around 7:45 a.m., the department tweeted that “fire had extended” into the other building. An hour later, the blaze was still considered active and fire companies from several neighboring communities were still working to contain the fierce flames.

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By 10:30 a.m., the Cambridge fire department tweeted the blaze had been contained but firefighters would remain on the scene.

“We’re gonna be here a long time,” Mahoney told reporters, as firefighters continued to hose down the smoke-filled buildings on Monday morning.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, he said.

“My understanding is that there’s been some ongoing renovations in one of the buildings, but I’m not going to speculate as to the cause or the origin at this point,” he said.

The fire occurred in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood of Cambridge, near the Somerville line.

The property at 6 Hunting St. is listed in city assessing records as a mixed use three-story building assessed at $808,900. The 3,328-square foot building was built in 1900. The adjacent building at 851 Cambridge St. is a mixed use three-story building with brick veneer that was built in 1873 and assessed at $2.7 million.

An MBTA bus was sent to the area to provide temporary shelter for anyone displaced by the fire, officials said.

Displaced residents gathered at the Frisoli Youth Center on Willow Street.

“Red Cross is providing financial assistance to the 20 residents, as well as blankets, clothing and toiletry items,” Red Cross spokesman Jeff Hall said in an e-mail. “The Frisoli Youth Center is open for people to be out of the cold, they’re also providing breakfast. Lunch for workers and residents is going to be provided as well. City of Cambridge is also here offering resources to those affected.”

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Cambridge officials tweeted that anyone looking to help the displaced families can donate online to the mayor’s disaster relief fund at https://camb.ma/2FnPqQs.

Nathan Klima for the Boston Globe
Emergency personnel worked at the scene of a 4-alarm fire in Cambridge.Nathan Klima for the Boston Globe

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.