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Cause of Boston's 9-Alarm Inferno Released

Cause of Boston's 9-Alarm Inferno Released

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Boston Globe via YellowBrix

August 25, 2010

BOSTON – Saturday night’s nine-alarm inferno that destroyed several abandoned buildings in Roxbury was sparked accidentally by fireworks, Boston Fire Lieutenant Hank Sheridan, the lead investigator, said last night.

Witnesses reported seeing a group of men lighting fireworks from the roof of 31 Norfolk Ave., and some of those fireworks landed on the roof of a warehouse at 57 Norfolk Ave., where the blaze began, said Steve MacDonald, a Fire Department spokesman.

“This determination was based on the physical evidence, interviews with witnesses, burn patterns, and other factors,’’ MacDonald said.

“While these individuals’ actions were illegal, the resulting fire was not intentional but accidental,’’ he added. “They may be cited by investigators.’’

Four to five men in their 20s live in apartments at 31 Norfolk Ave., and they were on the roof of their building Saturday night, shooting off fireworks, MacDonald said. He said some of the burning missiles landed at 57, sparking the fire. The city Inspectional Services Department is looking into the legality of the apartments.

When the fire started, nearby police officers saw the blaze, and the first arriving firefighters reported “heavy fire showing’’ from the building and immediately struck multiple alarms, according to a recording of firefighter radio chatter from that night.

One of the people lighting the fireworks called 911 after the fire broke out, MacDonald said.

The resulting blaze, one of the largest in recent Boston history, gutted the complex, which included an abandoned cold storage facility and an adjacent eight-story tower.


Candeloro Maggio, the owner of the warehouse complex, said in a phone interview last night that he had recently toured the fire site with investigators and that he saw spent Roman candles and bottle rockets on the roof of one of his buildings.

“I had the Boston Fire Department and Police Department interview me, and we went up on the roof, and sure enough, there were fireworks there,’’ he said.

“This is one more example of why fireworks of any size and type are illegal in Massachusetts,’’ MacDonald said.

Maggio said he believes some of the people lighting the fireworks may have run to the vacant warehouse in an effort to extinguish the spreading flames.

The finding that the fire was ignited on the roof confirms the preliminary investigation discussed by District 7 Fire Chief Erik Pettaway, who said on Sunday that footage from a security camera at a nearby waste company indicated the roof was the origin of the blaze.

The warehouse complex, which stretches across a city block, was ordered demolished by the city.

Pettaway was hailed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino and fire officials for his quick thinking that night. He ordered firefighters and fire trucks to back away from the building only seconds before a wall collapsed outward, an action that Menino said probably prevented serious injury.

No one was hurt in the fire.

A giant fireball rose more than 100 feet in the air on Saturday, and the plume of smoke could be seen from miles away.

Firefighters poured water on the site for nearly 18 hours before declaring the fire “all out’’ about 4:15 p.m. on Sunday.

At its peak, about 170 of the 265 on-duty Boston firefighters battled the fire, MacDonald said. Fourteen cities and towns sent fire trucks to cover the empty firehouses all around the city.

Nine-alarm fires, the maximum response in Boston, are rare, but there have been two this year. The first broke out in Back Bay on April 7 in a residential high-rise. Before that, the last nine-alarm fire was in 2002.


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