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Border Cafe closed after 2-alarm fire hits restaurant

Flames shot through the roof of the Border Cafe on Sunday.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

CAMBRIDGE — Firefighters battled and extinguished a two-alarm blaze that broke out at the Border Café in Harvard Square during the Sunday lunchtime rush, authorities said.

Initial reports of smoke at 32 Church St. came in at about 1:05 p.m., according to Gerard Mahoney, Cambridge’s acting fire chief. The fire appeared to have originated in the Tex-Mex restaurant’s kitchen exhaust system and was contained by about 2:15 p.m., Mahoney said.

During the fire, flames, and smoke could be seen coming from a ventilation cap on the building’s roof.

No injuries were reported. Cambridge fire officials could not immediately provide a dollar estimate for the damage to the structure.


The restaurant remained closed in the aftermath of the fire and it was not clear when it would reopen.

At the scene Sunday afternoon, multiple ladder trucks and other rescue vehicles blocked Church Street, and restaurant employees clustered behind yellow caution tape. Workers and a manager declined to speak to a reporter, saying that any comment would have to come from the restaurant’s general manager. He could not be found at the scene.

Victor Montal and Will Orwig, coworkers in a neuroscience laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, had been seated inside the packed restaurant about five minutes, they said, when a fire alarm began blaring.

“We were kind of looking around, unsure of what was going on, and the manager was telling everyone to get out,” said Orwig, 25.

They could smell smoke but saw no flames, the men said, as customers quickly headed for the exit, some of them leaving possessions behind. Montal, a Spaniard living in the US on a student visa, left a backpack that contained important immigration paperwork and his laptop.

“We didn’t know what was happening, and we saw a lot of people going out. The manager, he was [shouting], ‘Let’s go out. Come on, please, go out.’ So in the rush, I just forgot completely about it,” said Montal, 26.


As he waited to see if he could retrieve his possessions, Montal was laughing so he wouldn’t cry, he said.

Just before 3 p.m., firefighters allowed restaurant employees to go inside and retrieve jackets and bags. Then a firefighter led Montal inside, where he found his backpack undamaged.

The restaurant was dark and smoky inside, but appeared to be intact, Montal said after he came out. He was “super happy,” he said, to have his bag back.

Globe correspondent Adam Sennott contributed to this report. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.