Transformer explodes, fire rages, Back Bay goes dark

Transformer fire in the Back Bay

The fire not long after it started. Photo by Bosfiddle.

At 9:13, Boston EMS tweeted the scene was clear of smoke.

An explosion in a building housing two large transformers next to the Back Bay Hilton's parking garage at 40 Dalton St. sparked a three-alarm fire that filled the area with toxic black smoke just a block from the earlier fire at TC's Lounge, forced the evacuation of a large hotel and caused power outages throughout the Back Bay and surrounding neighborhoods.

Darkness in the heart of town: Garrett Quinn interviews survivors.

Julie Loncich reports 20,000 NStar customers lost power in the Back Bay, the South End, Chinatown and Kenmore Square - and that they could be without power through Wednesday.

Fire at 7 p.m. Photo by BFD.Fire at 7 p.m. Photo by BFD.

The fire quickly went to two alarms after firefighters arrived around 6:20 p.m. At 7 p.m., with NStar emergency crews still not on scene despite increasingly anxious requests from BFD, fire commanders declared a third alarm as a 115,000-volt transformer burned, spewing smoke that MBTA officials warned their police officers would not be filtered by their emergency masks. City officials warned people to stay away from the area and stay inside.

Later, the fire department reported:

The transformer that was on fire is cooled with mineral oil. While not toxic, it is never good to inhale any kind of smoke.

Video from across the Charles by Matt Stempeck.

Eerie photo down Newbury Street.

Boston firefighters got some help from Massport, which sent two trucks over from Logan, one loaded with the foam needed to put out the oil fire.

Around the area, people reported power issues. Lights flickered and then died from Dalton Street down Boylston around 7:30 as NStar turned off the transformers to help damp the fire.

The Pru, the Hancock and the Hynes lost power; firefighters not at the fire scene went from building to building in the Back Bay, making sure nobody was stuck in elevators. The Fire Department's own fire-alarm office lost power, as Kenmore Square and Columbus Avenue down to West Newton.

Boylston Street isn't supposed to be this dark at night. Photo by Matt Karolian.Boylston Street isn't supposed to be this dark at night. Photo by Matt Karolian.

View from East Cambridge. Photo by David Cole.View from East Cambridge. Photo by David Cole.

Blackout map.

BPD brought in officers from other parts of the city to patrol the blackout area.

The T shut stations at Mass. Ave. on the Orange Line and Hynes, Symphony and Arlington on the Green Line. Firefighters evacuated the Hilton, where guests are expected to spend the night at the Sheraton.

Amy Deveau, out for drinks at the nearby Dillon's, reported firefighters ordered people at the bar to stay inside because of the thick smoke.

Bar-goers were evacuated on a T bus around 8:30 p.m. Riggs, also on an evacuation bus, reports things did not go well:

Bus finally moving from Apple Store to Symphony. Was forced on, then sat 30 mins. Coulda walked out in that time. Bus drove from Apple Store on Boylston to fountain at Church Park. Boston fails at emergencies.

The state shut the turnpike at both ends of the Pru, leading to scenes like this:

Empty turnpikeLooking west from BU. Photo by Gustavo Quiroga.



Free tagging: 


Lights out all over back bay

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Lights out all over back bay from fens to copley. Somehow Christian scince center unaffected- an oasis of light. Lights visible on buildings dowtown in the distance. Streets filled with people. Lots of helicopters makes it seem like a war zone. Uhub comment box nearly unusable with Android phone. Oh the humanity.

polychlorinated dibenzofuran

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I would like to find out if Nstar still owns old PCB containing transformers. Such fires can be dangerous.

Fire and darkness

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Luca Settembrini watched the smoke rise from Mass. Ave.:

The view from the street:


NU just activated their alert system asking everyone (students, staff, faculty) to stay away from the area due to the fire. Crazy!

Toxic release alert

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Everyone in area should stay inside. The pru is dark as a steer's tuchus on a moonless night.


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I recollect being present in a similar scene in '98 on Beacon Hill; it really sucked. I hope they get this under control soon.

Left the place I volunteer at

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Left the place I volunteer at in Back Bay, and the area was very dark. Decided to walk to Park St, and the lights were out until halfway through the Public Garden.

Got evacuated from the

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Got evacuated from the library shortly after the power went out, it was weird seeing all those lights out. The green line is shut down from Hynes to Arlington so I got a ride home from a co-worker. And I now have a weird chemical taste in my mouth and stinging eyes.

Smelled smoke in Inman Square

while biking home from Microsoft NERD and the MIT library tonight. Oddly I didn't smell it on Memorial Drive right across from where this was all happening.

" is never good to

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" is never good to inhale any kind of smoke?"
Bro, quit harshing my buzz...

Smoke in Chelsea and Revere

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but not really in South Boston. People seemed to be avoiding the Green Line, the E was quite empty going inbound at Northeastern, have to be honest, it was great going express to Boylston. The buses didn't have as much luck, the 1 was FUBAR, the 39 would do well for a while, and then just disappear for 30 minutes, and the 55 was just sort of wandering around, as a large part of its route was cut off.

Seems to me NStar needs to be

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Seems to me NStar needs to be held accountable for 1) failure to respond in a timely fashion. 40 mins is not timely, and 2) over-reacting with the shut-down. As the situation stabilized chatter implied much more was shut down than needed to be.