Hours before the New Year, a fast-moving seven-alarm fire swept through a condominium complex in South Boston last night, killing one resident and forcing other occupants and firefighters out of the building.
Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Finn, speaking to reporters in front of the building as it continued to burn last night, said the fire was thought to have started in a first-floor kitchen and spread quickly to the five floors through a stairwell. Its speed prevented firefighters from searching the entire structure right away.
"I don't know at this point if everybody is out," Finn said a little after 9 p.m.
Fire officials described the victim as a 47-year-old male, and said he had suffered a heart attack.
The Fire Department received the first call at 7:42 p.m., Finn said. Firefighters battled the blaze inside the 20-unit condo complex for nearly an hour before they were told to evacuate, out of worry that the building - the former Hotel Eaton - might collapse. "After about 45 minutes fighting the fire, we realized we needed to get everybody out," he said.
The Fire Department also evacuated four homes behind the Emerson Street building and two next door.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino arrived on the scene shortly after 9 p.m. He said he had been at the city's First Night fireworks display when he got the news.
He said the city would bring those without places to stay to a recreation center for temporary shelter.
Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said the man who died had been taken to a hospital in serious condition.
He said officials may not know the cause of the fire for 24 to 48 hours.
Kristen Kroen, who lives on the third floor, said she was worried about everyone in her building and wanted to see her neighbors to make sure they were OK.
Globe Correspondent Sarah Metcalf contributed to this report.