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Boston Tea Party museum catches fire again

Firefighters responded to a two-alarm fire at the Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum yesterday. Firefighters responded to a two-alarm fire at the Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum yesterday. (GEORGE RIZER/GLOBE STAFF)

Sparks from a bridge construction site ignited the century-old Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum yesterday, scorching the popular tourist attraction for the second time in six years, fire and construction officials said yesterday.

The 100-year-old building, which was on track to be demolished and replaced by 2009, did not contain any items of historical significance and had been closed since it was struck by lightning in 2001, said Shawn P. Ford, vice president of Historic Tours of America, which maintains the museum.

Ford said the Key West, Fla.-based company still plans to construct the new museum, though it was unclear what impact the fire would have on the project. No dollar estimate was given on the damage.

"Any time you see anything on fire, it's always alarming," Ford said. "But it wasn't like that site was not going to be demolished and rebuilt anyway."

Yesterday morning, workers from Walsh Construction were cutting and welding steel beams on the Congress Street Bridge when sparks flew onto the red wooden museum, which sits on a dock near the bridge's midpoint, according to construction workers.

The fire spread to the museum's main structure and then to a large plastic tarp that was covering part of the construction site, said Robert Calobrisi, deputy chief of the Boston Fire Department.

Workers tried to extinguish the fire with a hose on the bridge before calling firefighters about noon to help contain the two-alarm fire, Calobrisi said.

The wind gusts and tide in the harbor prevented fireboats from helping to douse the fire, making it difficult for firefighters to find an effective angle from which to fight the fire, Calobrisi said. While the only damage appeared to be to the building, Calobrisi said the bridge would be inspected today as a precaution.

The black skies the fire caused over the Financial District yesterday drew hundreds of spectators along the banks.

Scott Larivee, a sixth-grade teacher in Brighton who was fishing for stripers near the bridge, said flames quickly engulfed the building.

"They were roaring," he said. "The whole inside was totally infernal."

The original Tea Party Museum opened in 1973 and included a replica of the Brig Beaver, one of three tall ships raided by colonists in an act of defiance that helped spark the American Revolution. The Beaver was hauled out of the water in 2004 for renovations. The plans for the new museum call for the addition of replicas of the Dartmouth and the Eleanor, the two other ships raided by colonists in 1773.

Javier Hernandez can be reached at

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