Ten-alarm fire destroys eight buildings, displaces 104; $500,000 aid fund set up (update)
Firefighters from 17 communities joined with Cambridge to battle a 10-alarm fire that broke out just before 3 p.m. Saturday near 30 Berkshire St., in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood near Kendall Square. According to published reports, the fire wasn’t fully contained until 8 p.m. by some 140 firefighters on the scene.
The fire started in a three-family home undergoing renovations and eventually consumed eight buildings, much of it affordable housing. It damaged seven more and destroyed several cars, but there were only minor injuries to a handful of people.
Three buildings are being torn down in Cambridge and at least one other will be partially razed for safety reasons, said Lee Gianetti, the city’s director of communications and community relations, in a Sunday email.
Officials called it the largest Cambridge fire since the 1980s. It was ‘‘miraculous’’ no one was killed, Fire Chief Gerald Reardon said.
The cause is still under investigation, officials said.
Initial estimates were that 60 people were displaced by the fire, but as of Sunday afternoon the Red Cross had registered 48 displaced families, representing 104 people – and more may yet come forward, Giannetti said. Many fled Saturday night to a center set up for victims at the War Memorial Center, where city officials met with them. Newly elected state Rep. Mike Connolly said he came to the center from a Massachusetts Peace Action conference at Simmons College after hearing news of the fire.
There were 25 Cambridge Rindge and Latin School families affected by the fire, some of whom were described as having lost “everything” at a Sunday meeting of the Friends of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. Some had been placed in hotel rooms if they had no family or friends to stay with, an attendee reported hearing from high school Principal Damon Smith, and the school district is arranging to get those students to and from school until they have permanent housing.
Mayor E. Denise Simmons has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to help. As of Sunday morning more than $100,000 had already been raised toward a $200,000 goal; by the afternoon, the goal had been raised to $500,000, and within hours the amount donated had risen to more than $250,000 – the contributions of just over 3,800 people in a single day.
“We’re proud to say that we shattered that goal in less than 24 hours. Now, we’ve upped the goal,” Connolly said. “The need for assistance, support and affordable housing is enormous.”
Members of the public can also donate to the Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund online at cambridgema.gov/firefund or by sending a check to the Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund, at Cambridge City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge MA 02139.
“The city appreciates the numerous offers for volunteers and donations of physical assets; however, what is needed most is donations to the Mayor’s Fire Relief Fund. The city is currently not accepting physical donations,” said City Manager Louis A. DePasquale in a Sunday press release.
“The most important first step displaced families and individuals can take is to register with the Red Cross of Massachusetts,” he said, pointing people to Red Cross phone access at (800) 564-1234 and drop-in sessions:
Sunday from noon to 6 P.M. at the Frisoli Youth Center, 61 Willow St.
Monday from 8:30 a.m to 8 p.m. at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, where there will also be a Fire Recovery Resource Center where affected residents can meet with representatives from the city; American Red Cross; state Emergency Management Agency’s Division of insurance; Division of Transitional Assistance, Housing and Development; Department of Public Health; Department of Mental Health; National Voluntary Organizations Active In Disaster; and Riverside Community Care.
Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at City Hall. The Fire Recovery Resource Center will be in place again during these hours.
A number of streets were closed as a result of the fire and will remain closed until further notice, Giannetti said, naming these streets as blocked to pedestrians and vehicles: Berkshire Street, from York Street to Plymouth; and Plymouth Street, from Cardinal Medeiros Avenue to Berkshire Street. Shorter-term closures were expected for Vandine Street, from Cardinal Medeiros to Berkshire Street; and York Street, from Willow Street to Berkshire Street.
Allison Goldsberry contributed to this report.