Hours before Boston firefighters faced off against a wind-stoked blaze on Beacon Street on Wednesday, Lynn firefighters rushed to their first call of the day, a fire in a three-story building on Henry Street.
The cold, gusting wind caused flames to lick up the sides of the building and heavy smoke to gush from the building's windows. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished, and all residents and rescuers were accounted for, officials said.
But the firefighters returned to their stations that afternoon knowing, as they always do, that they might have not been so fortunate. At any moment, a sudden gust of wind could change everything, just as it did several hours later in Boston.
“Every fire has its own unique characteristics. All of a sudden you see an influx of oxygen, and the fire intensifies,” said Lynn District Fire Chief Stephen Archer. “It’s our job to try to be ready to react to it, but it’s one of the parts that makes our job so very dangerous.”
The tragic nine-alarm fire at 298 Beacon St. was not the only blaze Wednesday that sent firefighters scrambling, beating back flames fueled by strong winds. American Red Cross representatives said they responded to nine fires in total Wednesday, all exacerbated by the weather.
“The wind was so bad, and it was freezing,” said Kat Powers, a spokeswoman for the American Red Crossof Massachusetts. “That makes everything infinitely more difficult.”
Red Cross workers responded to blazes in Braintree, Methuen, Charlton, New Bedford, Mattapan, Holbrook, and Dorchester, said Powers.
All these fires intensified rapidly, said Leighton Jones, chief disaster officer at the American Red Cross of Massachusetts.
“The wind makes smaller fires that on a regular day would be minor into major responses,” he said.
Sixty-two men, women and children were displaced after fires engulfed their homes, said Jones.
Since January, 14 people have died in 11 fatal fires in the state, said Jennifer Mieth, the state fire marshal's spokeswoman. Two of them were Boston Fire Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr., and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, who were killed in the Beacon Street inferno.
Governor Deval Patrick today ordered all flags in government buildings be flown at half-mast.
“It hits all of us hard when something like this happens,” said Archer, of the Lynn department. “Any time we lose a brother, we all feel the loss.”
Archer added, “There’s a quietness and a somberness in the fire service today. The challenge of knowing that the very next call could be a very dangerous one — we live with that on a day-to-day basis.”