By Harry Kane
A large fire broke out in Somerville, burning down a pair of three-decker houses, and damaging neighboring homes on Calvin Street and Beacon Place last Thursday, July 25. There were no casualties.
This marks the sixth fire in Somerville during the month of July, and the third major fire in that neighborhood, all of them occurring in the morning hours. The rash of fires is under investigation, and at this point, Somerville Fire Chief Kevin Kelleher gave no indication of foul play.
Firefighters struggled to subdue the blazing flames on Calvin Street, which ominously began in the early morning hours sometime around 6 a.m. at 19-21 Calvin St. The fast-growing fire extended to surrounding buildings, making this fire one of the biggest in Somerville’s recent history.
The massive seven-alarm blaze spread through the congested area for roughly 2 hours, sending residents fleeing in terror, until the firefighters extinguished the flames, saving the rest of the nearby houses from devastation.
“At this time the cause of the fire is under investigation,” Chief Kelleher said. “We believe it started in the rear of number 19-21 Calvin St.” It’s being investigated by members of the Somerville Fire Investigation Unit, Somerville Police and the Office of the State Fire Marshall.
Two firefighters were injured in the blaze, but neither was critically wounded. An Everett firefighter suffered from smoke inhalation and was taken to Mass General Hospital, where he was treated for respiratory problems and later released. The other member, a Brookline firefighter with a knee injury, was taken to Cambridge Hospital and released after being examined and treated.
When the fire department arrived on scene, the fire had already spread from the rear of 19-21 Calvin St., a three-story wood frame building, to the neighboring structure at 23-25 Calvin St. “Both of those buildings were destroyed,” Chief Kelleher said. The two dwellings were later demolished during the evening, and into the morning of the next day, the fire chief added.
Before long, the fire spread to the houses adjacent to the initial outbreak. Plumes of smoke billowed from the windows while firefighters battled to douse the flames. It was a race against time.
At 27-29 Calvin St. the blaze was contained, and the house was narrowly saved due to the manpower and determination of the fire departments. The building has extensive damage to the exterior rear and the third floor roof space, according to the fire chief.
“That was kinda the next building in line to go,” Chief Kelleher said. “We were able to make a stand in there, because we had amassed enough troops to get up there and open up the ceilings.”
On the other side, the building at 15-17 Calvin St. had broken windows, and most of the siding was completely melted. A small shed in the backyard caught fire.
Two wooden houses located behind Calvin Street, at 22 and 24 Beacon Place, took the wrath of the raging fire, too. The siding buckled and portions were singed. “Another few minutes and that could have potentially gone,” Chief Kelleher said.
In total, 23 engine companies arrived on the scene from Somerville and nearby communities to battle the inferno.
In regard to the estimated cost of damage, Chief Kelleher said that he didn’t have any figures, but a “wild guesstimate” of the loss would be at least two million dollars.
Alderman Mary Ann Heuston lives around the corner from where the fire occurred. “I could see smoke from my backyard,” she said. Heuston ran towards the street and found distraught residents milling around, in a state of shock.
“It’s very scary,” Heuston said, “because there were a lot of trees around, and I think part of what might have saved us, too, is it wasn’t a bone-dry area. At the time, I think we had just had some rain. I’m thinking, if it was during those days where we had the hot weather, and we hadn’t had rain for about two weeks, who knows what would have happened.”
If there’s a silver lining in this tragedy, Heuston added, it’s that there were no casualties, and residents were well protected by the valiant firefighters of Somerville and nearby communities.
“Somerville is fortunate to have the best first responders in the state with the fastest response time,” Mayor Curtatone said, “and I thank them for continually putting their lives on the line to protect and serve this community.”