Fire in Back Bay leaves off-campus students without electricity

by Heidi Moeller / Beacon Staff and Jackie Tempera / Beacon Staff • March 14, 2012

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Crews work on Dalton Street to assess the damage from a fire that left thousands without power Tuesday.
Crews work on Dalton Street to assess the damage from a fire that left thousands without power Tuesday.

After a three alarm fire left much of Boylston Street dark Tuesday night, off-campus Emerson students living in the area will remain without power until at least tomorrow, Boston fire officials said.

Steve MacDonald, a Boston Fire Department spokesman, said crews responded to a fire caused by a 115,000 volt transformer on Scotia Street at 6:27 p.m. Tuesday. The building, an electrical substation owned and operated by NStar, is adjacent to the Back Bay Hilton hotel, which was immediately evacuated.

The surrounding area is blacked out from electricity, MacDonald said, and crews will be working the entire night to restore power.

“It’s going to be partial. You’re first going to see power in Chinatown and Kenmore Square restored,” said MacDonald. “This immediate area, hopefully sometime tomorrow.”

Francois Schrurs, a senior journalism major, said he was in his apartment at 755 Boylston St. when he smelled smoke. By 7:30 p.m. he said the power in his building was out.

“I could feel the smoke and I’d rather get out of there, my apartment was so dark,” Schrurs said in a phone interview. “It really tasted weird like chemicals. I felt disgusting, like I knew the air isn’t good and not clean.”

Although a thick, dark cloud covered downtown Boston because of the incident, MacDonald said the air contained no toxins. The generators, he said, are cooled by mineral oil, a non-toxic agent that caused the smoke.

Carlos Negrete, a senior broadcast journalism major, said he was walking to Trader Joe’s when he saw fumes emerging from the NStar building.

After returning to his apartment on Haviland Street, he said he and his roommates turned on the news to try and remain updated, but a few minutes later the power went out.

“Luckily Momma Bear hooked me up with some matches, so we lit a few candles, grabbed some gear and got out of there,” Negrete said in a phone interview.  

Negrete described the smell outside his building as a mixture of cigarette smoke and burned rubber.

“I definitely felt a little nauseous,” he said.

Both Negrete and Schrurs said they plan to stay with friends until the power in their buildings is restored.

NStar spokesperson Mike Durand said they are unsure how many costumers will regain power by tomorrow.

“We will work through the night,” said Durand. “We are continuing to assess and work with the equipment we have.”

According to MacDonald, one person was transported to hospital due to smoke inhalation.

Dan Bisaccio, one of Negrete’s roommates, was on campus at the time of the fire.

“My roommates were telling me they were being evacuated people were in a panic,” he said in a phone interview. “I didn’t know what was going on if it was serious from the pictures smoke looked pretty intense.”

Bisaccio said he used the Boston Fire’s official Twitter as a way to gain information about the accident.

“Social media has been a big thing for this,” said Bisaccio. “I would normally check the news, but the fire department kept tweeting and it was really helpful.”