Investigation into fire that destroyed unfinished apartment in Dorchester begins

DORCHESTER (WHDH/AP) — A six-alarm fire destroyed an apartment building in Dorchester that was in its final stages of construction and investigators are working to determine why the sprinkler system failed to kick on.

Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn said the blaze at the six-story, wood-framed Treadmark building started around 2 p.m. Wednesday. Finn says the fire appears to have started on the top floor, moving quickly downward.

Finn also said the building became unstable after air conditioning units on top buckled and collapsed within minutes of crews arriving at the scene. Nearly 200 firefighters battled the stubborn, fast-moving flames for nearly 12 hours before bringing it under control.

“Within nine minutes of our arrival, the roof started to sag and cave,” Finn said.

The fire department says it was forced to fight the fire from the exterior of the 83-unit building on Dorchester Avenue due to safety reasons.

The fire alarm system for the building was slated to be inspected Thursday. Finn says the building’s sprinklers should have kicked on when the flames broke out. It’s not clear if the system was turned off or if it malfunctioned.

“I want to make sure that we do a thorough investigation on whether the sprinkler system failed or if it was inoperable,” Finn said.

Officials say one construction worker was hospitalized for chest pains, and several firefighters were hospitalized with exhaustion.

Firefighters remained at the scene overnight as the fire raged on. They were still dousing hot spots Thursday morning. Roads remain closed in the area but could reopen Thursday night. The Ashmont MBTA station reopened Thursday morning.

Tenants were slated to begin entering in July after many placed deposits on 32 condo units and 51 affordable housing units. Officials say it’s a miracle that the building is still standing.

“It’s a big loss, especially for the families that were supposed to move in,” said Sheila Dillon of the Boston Housing Department.

Tenants are now waiting to find out if any of the building can be salvaged. Some nearby residents were evacuated or told to remain in doors because of the poor air quality in the area. Heavy smoke could be seen pouring into the air for hours.

“We are very grateful that no one got hurt,” Boston Mayor Mary Walsh said.

The building suffered an estimated $45 million in damage. There’s a chance the building could have to be torn down.

Officials say the building was constructed all within code, and the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

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