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Mourners visit site of fatal blaze

After the procession had passed and the funeral for Paul J. Cahill had begun, hundreds of firefighters from across North America walked back up Centre Street to the place where he and Warren J. Payne died.

Some approached the charred West Roxbury restaurant alone, while others came in groups. Many climbed a hill next to the building, looking at the gaping hole in the roof where a massive air conditioner had fallen through, providing fresh oxygen to the blaze.

Some lingered and took pictures, while others glanced and went back down the hill without a word.

"It doesn't look like much of a fire," an out-of-town firefighter said quietly, standing on Centre Street near the Tai Ho Mandarin and Cantonese Restaurant, which was boarded up and marked by yellow police tape. "Routine stuff."

"There's nothing routine about this job," replied Peter D. Margerum, one of 10 firefighters from Buffalo who flew to Boston yesterday morning for Cahill's funeral and for the service honoring Payne today.

It was impossible yesterday to ignore the fire scene, located roughly halfway between the firehouse where the men worked and Holy Name Church, where Cahill's funeral Mass was said. The funeral procession passed the building, and a faint smell of smoke still hung in the air.

Dozens of firefighters who could not find a place to sit or stand in the crowded church instead gathered inside a bar and restaurant across from the fire scene. A group of 70 recruits from Massachusetts fire departments formed two lines and walked up the hill to look at the roof of the restaurant that burned.

"It's kind of humbling to see how people can be hurt and killed in such a small building," Eric Williamson, a recruit from Natick, said after coming back down the hill.

"You always associate these types of incidents with major fires in big buildings, like a high-rise, but this can happen anywhere. Every city has a strip mall like this."

Ellie Buhlman, a 42-year resident of Roslindale, said that this corner of Boston had been through a lot in the past week.

"It's all right here," she said, referring to the firehouse, the fire scene, and the funeral.

"You look at this fire, and you can't believe it killed people."

Ryan Haggerty can be reached at

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