Grill blaze engulfs condo roof

Heat overwhelms 6 fighting the fire

At least four propane tanks fueled the fire atop the High Street brownstone in Charlestown. At least four propane tanks fueled the fire atop the High Street brownstone in Charlestown. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)
By Alex Katz
Globe Correspondent / July 7, 2010

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CHARLESTOWN — A propane grill left operating unattended on the roof of a Charlestown condominium building erupted in flames yesterday, detonating at least three other propane tanks kept illegally on the roof, Boston fire officials said.

The four-alarm fire sent black smoke billowing and had firefighters battling a gas-fueled blaze on a day when Boston’s official temperature broke 100 degrees.

Deputy Fire Chief Richard DiBenedetto said temperatures on the roof of the four-unit, four-story brownstone at 41 High St. reached 125 degrees. Some 125 firefighters worked to bring the fire under control, and at least six were taken to Boston hospitals for treatment of heat exhaustion, officials said.

Only one resident of the building was believed to have been home when the fire was discovered just before noon. The fire eventually spread to the roof of a building at 39 High St.

Steve MacDonald, Fire Department spokesman, said residents of 41 High St. will not be allowed to come home soon because of water and smoke damage, which totaled an estimated $750,000.

As firefighters were arriving, Charlestown resident Melinda Cheston said, she saw a man running up the street, shouting that his dog, a boxer, was still inside the building.

Cheston said that within moments, firefighters carried the dog outside.

“It was awesome,’’ Cheston said. “I have a dog and you know how dog owners can be.’’

Amid the day’s intense heat, firefighters tried to cool down in between stints battling the flames. Underneath a red tent in a parking lot across the street from the blaze, they were able to remove some of their heavy gear and downed bottles of water, draped wet towels on their heads, and rested in folding chairs.

Use of propane grills above the first floor is illegal in Massachusetts, said MacDonald, who pointed out that they are not dangerous when used properly, such as in a backyard, as long as they meet fire safety regulations.

The grill that caused yesterday’s fire was positioned on wooden planking and was operated without supervision, he said. Heat built up inside the grill, he said, and somehow melted the fuel supply line — hot grease may have dripped onto it — which then released the propane gas.

“You shouldn’t leave it on a rooftop where it is illegal, and, especially, you shouldn’t leave it operating on a rooftop because then you have a fire hazard,’’ MacDonald said of propane grills.

John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Alex Katz can be reached at

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