Allston Street neighbors rally to help after devastating fire

Allston Street fire

Allston Street fire. Photo by Boston Fire Department.

The five-alarm fire that ripped through a Dorchester three-decker and badly damaged a neighboring dwelling late Saturday night left a family unit of 14 people homeless and caused up to $1.5 million in damages, according to the city’s Fire Department, which also noted that one firefighter was treated at the scene and transported to the hospital for evaluation. Remarkably, no other injuries were reported.

Shamila Buchan, who lived on the first floor of 7 Allston St, said the residents who escaped the blaze are part of one large family. “We haven’t even thought about [the cost] yet,” she said. “It happened so fast, we just grabbed everybody and ran for it. There was no looking back.” Buchan said she is currently staying with her sister in Dorchester. The family has been contacted by the Red Cross with information about additional places to stay.

But long term? “We will have to find a new place to live,” she said. In a tweet, the Fire Department called the house at 7 Allston a “complete and total loss.” The extent of the damage was clearly visible Sunday afternoon: The house that many locals will remember for its cheerful annual display of Christmas lights had been reduced to a charred skeleton covered by dramatically featured icicles.

As firefighters worked the scene, flames could be seen rising into the sky from the top of the building. And the smoke billowing out of the building could be seen from blocks away. Buchan said the family did not know yet the cause of the fire, and Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn added that the cause is under investigation.

The house next door toward Centre Street sustained considerable damage. On Sunday afternoon, residents of that building’s first floor returned to retrieve a few key items, picking through the frigid and water-damaged mess that was covered by a thick layer of ice.

Ngoc Pham, whose elderly parents live there with his niece, said they were staying with him nearby – although it was a tight squeeze to combine the families. They, too, had been in touch with the Red Cross. He said the basement was flooded and the living situation was simply untenable. “Everything’s gone,” he said. The temperature inside the home Sunday afternoon seemed indistinguishable from outside, where temperatures hovered near 12 degrees in the sunshine.

Pham said his relatives had watched the fire as it spread rapidly. “They heard an explosion and looked out their window and saw flames on the first floor,” he says. “By the time they got out to the porch, it had spread to the second floor.”

The nearby Epiphany School has started an online campaign to raise funds for the Buchan family. As of Tuesday, it had surpassed its initial $20,000 goal.

The impact of the fire and the fight to bring it under control, which brought in an estimated 100 firefighters, could still be felt late Sunday afternoon.

A fire truck at the scene, its ladder hoisted in the sky with a hose, continued to run water into the house. A firefighter on the scene who had come from Revere told the Reporter that the ladder was frozen in place but the continuing flow of water was due to caution about any remaining flames.

Water ran from the fire site down to Centre Street, then over onto Wainwright Street, quickly turning into thick layers of ice. Residents told about a drain on Lithgow Street, which runs from Wainwright up to Codman Square, that they said had not properly drained for months and was now inefficient in assisting with the overflow of water.

As a caution for the future, the Fire Department also tweeted out about the importance of keeping fire hydrant spaces cleared off. “Thanks to this Dorchester neighborhood for having hydrants at the ready. We used many and were able to hookup quickly,” the department said.

The fire was the second major one in Dorchester on Saturday. Early in the morning, a two alarm fire on Drayton Avenue injured one firefighter.