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Massive 9-alarm blaze tears through residential neighborhood in Dorchester

The rear view of the Old Morton Road fire scene from Temple Street.
The rear view of the Old Morton Road fire scene from Temple Street.(Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff)

A massive fire swept through a neighborhood in Dorchester Saturday afternoon, destroying three houses, severely damaging five others, and forcing the evacuation of dozens of residents.

Thick, heavy smoke filled the air as dozens of firefighters battled the blaze that started around 4:45 p.m. at a vacant house at 37-39 Old Morton St. and spread to seven other homes in the Lower Mills neighborhood, officials said.

Nine people, including seven firefighters, were treated for minor injuries, said John Walsh, chief of operations for the Boston Fire Department.

Heavy fire was already showing from the home when the first crews arrived, and a third alarm was immediately ordered, the Fire Department said. As the fire quickly spread, more alarms were sounded in rapid succession. About 150 firefighters responded, Walsh said.

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Fire crews poured water on the properties from multiple angles as they tried to keep pace with the blaze that seemed to grow with intensity by the minute.

At 6 p.m., the smoke on Old Morton Street was so thick that only the outlines of firefighters and the homes on the street were visible.

It was unclear what caused the fire or why it spread so rapidly.

“Heat and the proximity of the houses made this a bad one,” Walsh said.

Wind gusts reached 35 miles per hour in Dorchester around the time the fire started, according to the National Weather Service in Norton.

Scott Eisen, who lives next door to 39 Morton St., believes wind was a factor in the fire that severely damaged his home.

“The winds really didn’t help the situation,” said Eisen, a freelance photographer whose work has appeared in the Globe.

A neighbor alerted him to the fire, and he escaped with his wife and two dogs. Outside, he could see the back of his neighbor’s home burning.

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Then, things took a turn for the worse, he said.

“There was a big boom and then the whole front went up like it was a gas explosion,” Eisen said. “The fire spread to our roof right away.”

9-alarm fire tears through Lower Mills
A nine-alarm fire hit the Lower Mills neighborhood on Saturday. (Maddie Kilgannon for The Boston Globe)

Fire Department investigators and the city’s fire marshal were on the scene late Saturday night trying to determine the cause. Crews will remain overnight to monitor for flare-ups, he said.

American Red Cross volunteers were assisting more than 18 families who may be affected by this “devastating disaster,” according to a press release.

Residents forced from their homes looked on in stunned disbelief as the raging fire tore through homes.

“It was an inferno,” said Milica Wren, 31, who removed a face mask to speak.

Wren said she thought one of her neighbors’ cookouts had gotten out of control when she saw smoke from a window. When Wren went outside to investigate, she realized it was much worse.

Wren said she saw an elderly neighbor being rescued from her burning home.

Wren, covered in soot, watched firefighters attack her neighbor’s house at 31 Old Morton St. Water caused siding to fall off the home.

“C’mon you guys — don’t let this one go,” pleaded Wren, who borrowed a hose to keep her house from catching on fire.

Andrew Hursey, 58, lives across the street from the house where the fire started, said his home was heavily damaged.

“Some of the fire flew across and damaged the roof . . . it was like a missile,” he said.

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Map: 39 Old Morton St.

Boston firefighter Karlos Roque covered in ash talked to a colleague while he took a break.
Boston firefighter Karlos Roque covered in ash talked to a colleague while he took a break.(Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
Firefighters hosed down the remains of a house destroyed by Saturday’s fire.
Firefighters hosed down the remains of a house destroyed by Saturday’s fire.(Boston Fire Department)

Globe correspondents Adam Sennott and Alison Kuznitz contributed to this story. Maddie Kilgannon can be reached at maddie.kilgannon@ globe.com. Breanne Kovatch can be reached at Breanne.Kovatch@globe.com.