Seven-alarm fire totals Back Bay apartment building, snarling traffic but leaving no serious injuries

A seven-alarm fire ravaged several stories of a Back Bay apartment building this afternoon, injuring three firefighters and snarling traffic for hours.

The blaze, caused by careless disposal of smoking materials, began around 2 p.m. on the fifth floor of a six-story apartment building at 31 Massachusetts Ave., according to the Boston Fire Department. Fire soon spread to the sixth floor, and flames could be seen shooting out of shattered windows. Firefighters knocked the blaze down a little more than an hour after it started.

Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said three fire fighters were treated for injuries at local hospitals: one for smoke inhalation, one for a burn to his neck, and one for a wrist injury.

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The building was occupied when the fire broke out, officials said, but residents were able to evacuate before any were injured.

“I just thought it was a smoke alarm, but then you could smell the smoke and you could hear the water coming out of the sprinklers,” said Samuel Dawson, 26, who was in his third-floor apartment when the fire began.

Dawson said he has lived in the building for two years, and that all of his belongings were inside his apartment. He stood across the street with his roommate, watching firefighters come in and out of his building. He pointed out water streaming down the building’s facade.

“Obviously, we’re concerned about water damage,” he said.

“It’s good to see the other residents coming out immediately and that no one was getting rescued,” he added. He paused, looking up at the building, and said, “It’s just, I don’t know, troubling.”

The building, which contains 30 apartments, will be uninhabitable for the foreseeable future, said MacDonald.

“It’s going to be a while before anyone lives here again,” he said at the scene.

Efforts to fight the fire were complicated by the building’s narrow stairwells and the lack of sprinklers in living areas, said MacDonald.

Damage was estimated at $2.5 million, according to MacDonald.

Police blocked off roads surrounding the scene as firefighters worked, causing backups that stretched across the Harvard Bridge, which carries Massachusetts Avenue across the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge.