By Seth Daniel
The sun was just rising around 6:40 a.m. when Gretchen Anjomi of Lexington Avenue smelled smoke – and not the kind of cozy, smoky smell that comes from a chimney.
Soon, she also heard smoke alarms start to blare as flames and heavy smoke began to pour out of the three-story Laundromat building across the vacant lot from her home.
“I was just getting ready inside the house, getting the kids ready to go to school and then I smelled a lot of smoke and heard the alarms,” she said while watching the blaze from the small private way Friday morning. “They did a good job of keeping it from spreading.”
“All of our houses are filled with smoke, and smoke alarms went off in some of the houses on Lexington Avenue,” said Eliana Lopez.
Boston Fire responded to the fire around 6:45 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 16, and faced brutally cold temperatures that made getting the fire knocked down very difficult – and made conditions for firefighters and their equipment rather treacherous.
After putting out the fire, and having to respond again later in the evening for a small flare-up, investigators set to work in sifting through the debris. The fire caused millions in damages, and has been determined to have started due to a short circuit in the ceiling of the first-floor Laundromat.
On Friday, as school children walked with their parents through the heavy smoke towards the Harvard Kent School and the Warren Prescott School, fire extinguishing activities continued in full force.
Icicles formed on ladders, the sides of the building and on the firefighters themselves – who were ordered to frequently take breaks and go onto buses provided by the MBTA to warm up. Temperatures hovered around 1 degree at the scene for most of the morning, and wind chills had the temperature down to minus-15. Those temperatures made ice as much of an enemy as the fire itself, with water freezing within minutes and slippery conditions all over the firefighting tarmac. In freezing conditions, frozen water frequently causes serious slip and fall injuries while the jakes battle blazes.
The fire was still going strong by 10 a.m., with flames still flaring up from the roof and heavy smoke pouring out of the third floor.
Commissioner Joe Finn and Mayor Martin Walsh announced around 10:15 a.m. that no one had been injured.
The Laundromat building was estimated to be a total loss with all three floors receiving heavy fire, smoke, water and ice damage – especially on floor two and three. There were 10 adults and one child displaced from that immediate fire building – not to mention the busy laundry business.
Another building was also reported to be damaged by water and smoke at the house directly behind the Laundromat, 28 Monument Ave. There were no utilities to that building after the fire and so the residents there were also displaced.
There are 12 adults from that building who found themselves homeless in the wake of the fire.
It was the second fire this year on Bunker Hill Street, with the first coming on July 21 at 284-286 Bunker Hill St. during one of the hottest days of the year. Contrastingly, Friday’s fire came on one of the coldest days of the year.
For residents who witnessed both fires, it was a chance to recognize the challenges firefighters face in battling life-threatening fires in tough conditions.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Anjomi. “It makes me all the more grateful for what firefighters do.”