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East Cambridge Residents Take Stock After 10-Alarm Blaze Saturday02:29
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The view on Berkshire Street in East Cambridge Sunday afternoon as crews started cleaning up from Saturday's 10-alarm fire. (Simón Rios/WBUR)
The view on Berkshire Street in East Cambridge Sunday afternoon as crews started cleaning up from Saturday's 10-alarm fire. (Simón Rios/WBUR)
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Nearly 50 families in East Cambridge have been displaced by a fire that tore through the neighborhood over the weekend. That's according to city officials who estimate the fire affected a total of more than 100 people.

The stench of burnt vinyl filled the air on Berkshire Street where a 10-alarm fire drew a response from more than 20 neighboring fire departments. Neighbors consoled one another as tow trucks hauled away the charred remains of cars destroyed in the fire.

"It was an inferno," East Cambridge resident Joe Buswell said. "The house next to us where the construction was burned to the ground. And our house, they're gonna tear that down now, and then all the houses over here."

Buswell has lived for 30 years in a triple-decker on Berkshire Street.

"I feel empty," he said. "But the good thing is that nobody lost their lives. That's the main thing. We can always rebuild."

The fire began around 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Fire officials fought the flames through the night as they spread to neighboring buildings and damaged 15 structures.

Crews moving a burnt out vehicle from Berkshire Street on Sunday. (Simón Rios/WBUR)
Crews moving a burnt out vehicle from Berkshire Street on Sunday. (Simón Rios/WBUR)

The Red Cross set up an evacuation center Saturday at War Memorial Recreation Center with beds for dozens of families, though just a few spent the night. Shelter manager Robert Picard said the first step was to make sure people were warm and cared for.

"Then a second phase kicks in and that's case work," Picard said, "getting people moved to temporary or permanent new housing, helping them replace furniture, clothing, food that they need to set up the house."

Picard said going into the Christmas season is a bad time of year to experience a fire. But he says multiple agencies and nonprofits are already working on getting people back on their feet.

"They're trying to have to now look for housing. The [Cambridge] Housing Authority is working already to try to identify what housing is available that they could move people into," Picard said. "Many of the landlords are looking to see if they can find additional housing."

The Red Cross was working to register all of the displaced families. The families are staying with family and friends, as well as strangers who offered up their homes.

Sahida Akter and her husband and three kids are staying in a hotel — and they have a long road ahead.

"Everything is gone. I lost everything. My passport, my jewelry, gold, everything, gone," Akter said.

City officials are calling on the public to donate to the relief effort by visiting cambridgema.gov.

This segment aired on December 5, 2016.

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Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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