Through a combination of luck and (mostly) the skills of our firefighters, police officers and other public safety personnel, as well as effective coordination with fire departments from a number of nearby towns, injuries were relatively few and minor but at least 11 buildings were damaged, five of them seriously, and dozens of families were displaced. Our Fire Chief, Gerald Reardon, described the fire as being almost as violent as a true wild land fire, able to jump streets and to completely engulf a house in only five minutes. That the injuries and damage were not more extreme is a tribute to the good work done by our public safety professionals, their high level of training and the quality of the equipment they have. It is not yet known how the fire started.
In a disaster of this type, what is needed most is money. Donations can be made to a special fund online or by check. Red Cross officials, Cambridge Housing Authority staff, City officials and others are working on finding long-term housing for those displaced by the fire and are now in a combination of friends homes, family housing or hotels. The Red Cross, which has a special disaster relief program, set up a shelter at the War Memorial Saturday night (it turned out that no one needed it) and is passing out gift cards to help people with immediate necessities like clothes. There will also be an office at City Hall for the next few days to help people organize and register as they piece things back together. Displaced people are encouraged to register with the Red Cross at that office or by phone at 800-564-1234. Should there be a need for housing, clothes bedding or other things, the City will post that information on its website. If you want to donate things like clothes or cookware or whatnot, places like the Salvation Army generally accept such donations but there is not, yet, a need to provide those items to people displaced by the fire.
In addition to CPF, CPD and the EMTs who responded, staff from the Water Department, DPW, Animal Control (one woman escaped the fire with her turtles in her pockets), the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and more helped with the immediate response and continue to help with the fire cleanup. At least three of the buildings are going to have to come down and others may be too structurally damaged to remain standing as well, though we won’t know for certain for a little bit yet. Several cars burned in the street and were towed to a tow lot yesterday. Private contractors will address debris and water (underground parking garages and cellars had several feet of water in them) on private property, City resources will address public drainage systems and debris on public property (with specialized contracts as much of the debris may be contaminated) and Eversource has been working to keep power supplies safe and reliable. As safety allows, people are being allowed back into their units to retrieve essential items and do a brief survey of the damage. While some of the buildings will need months of work before being habitable, the surrounding streets should be accessible in the fairly near future.
For more information on Cambridge’s fire safety efforts, you may want to read this report from a Resiliency meeting I chaired this past August.