Thick plumes of smoke could be seen coming from an unforgiving eight-alarm fire Monday morning as the blaze sent three firefighters to a hospital and consumed several small businesses in Natick, Massachusetts.
"It's overwhelming to see this. I've never seen anything like it," Michael Hickey, Chair of the Natick Board of Selectmen, said during a press conference. "This is the heart of downtown so it’s going to be a really difficult time for the town."
The blaze was reported at 1:22 a.m. when a pedestrian called to report smoke coming from a structure on South Main Street near the corner of East and West Central Streets, where a number of small businesses are located.
Responding firefighters quickly declared a second alarm after arriving at the scene, according to Dan Dow, the Natick Fire Department's Acting Fire Chief. As crews battled the flames, they also found themselves facing increased heat, which has been a challenge for crews.
"That's why we struck more alarms, because a lot of these guys were getting beat up quickly," Dow said.
It was about 80 or 85 degrees when firefighters first arrived in the early hours of the morning, and Dow said the challenge will only increase with the sun. Firefighters faced further difficulty since the structure's roof was made of rubber.
The State Fire Marshal's Office declared the blaze as a 9-alarm before 7 a.m. However, the Natick Fire Department maintained the blaze was at eight alarms during its peak.
Multiple-alarm fires are determined by the level of response from local authorities. Sixteen surrounding communities responded for backup.
The roaring fire ripped through the 13,000-square-foot building, which houses a pet grooming business, Chinese restaurant and print shop. The building had about eight businesses prior to the blaze, according to Dow.
"Thank God there was nobody in the building," business owner Nancy Kelley said. "That's the main thing.
Kelley owns one of the businesses that were likely destroyed in the inferno. All she could do was watch her dance studio full of 35 years worth of memories burn.
"We'll find another spot and my kids will follow me," she said. "I love them and they love me."
Another nearby business owner spoke out and had the firefighters' wellbeing on his mind.
"I see all these firemen working hard. I pray for their safety," Italo Demasi said.
Demasi owns a barber shop near the fire. He just relocated his longtime business to the area in the fall of 2018.
"The fire department says there might be smoke damage," he said.
"It's going to be a very difficult day to do business downtown," Lt. Cara Rossi of the Natick Police Department said.
Footage of the scene captured plumes of thick smoke coming from the structure. Multiple firefighters could be seen trying to douse the blaze and at least four ladders were used in the response.
One firefighter who was hospitalized suffered a minor arm injury, Dow said. The other two firefighers also suffered minor injuries. All were treated and released.
Crews remained on the scene throughout the day extinguishing hotspots and taking down the building. Demolition was expected to continue into Tuesday.
Fire officials said cut-up wood construction and the rubber membrane roof complicated their efforts to knock the fire down, creating pockets of unreachable flames.
"Very stubborn fire due to the construction of the building," said Natick Fire Chief Michael Lentini. "At one time there were two – or maybe three stories on this building. Back in the early 70s I think they did take those off."
Investigators are still working to determine the cause and origin of the fire but Dow said it likely started in the King Wok restaurant at the center of the building. So far, the fire does not appear to be suspicious.
Streets in the immediate area are expected to be closed through the evening commute as officials investigate the cause of the massive fire.