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TEXT OF STORY:
INTRO: As family and friends mourned the two firefighters killed in the West Roxbury restaurant fire, city officials gave a brief sketch of how the four-alarm blaze started. But there are still questions. WBUR's Nancy Cook has the first of two reports on the fire:
COOK: Before the restaurant ceiling collapsed and an oversized air conditioner fell, local firefighters assumed this was a routine fire. A kitchen fire at a storefront Chinese restaurant.
Boston Fire Chief Kevin MacCurtain said the firefighters didn't realize anything was wrong until it was too late.
MACCURTAIN: And they ran a hose line into the building, thinking to themselves this one's going to be easy. I can see a little bit of fire up in the kitchen. They brought a line in.
COOK: What the firefighters didn't know was that the restaurant had a dropped ceiling. The sprinklers were beneath the one layer of fiber tiles, while there another metal ceiling above that. The grease from the restaurant's flu gathered in this eight to 10 inch gap.
MACCURTAIN: From looking at the char in our investigation, it's obvious that the fire was burning for over an hour prior to our arrival, prior to its discovery. The occupants sitting in the restaurant did not know there was a fire burning above their heads in the double ceiling.
COOK: No one noticed until the fire dropped into the kitchen. Employees called 911. Workers and diners ran outside.
The firefighters arrived on the scene quickly - the West Roxbury fire station is just a few blocks away. The firefighters didn't know if anyone was inside.
Boston Fire Commissioner Rod Fraser said the firefighters who responded had been with the department for years.
FRASER: The men in these companies were veteran, experienced firefighters. This particular event progressed extremely rapidly from the moment these companies first arrived.
COOK: As the firefighters were pulling the hose into the blaze, MacCurtain said the ceiling collapsed.
MACCURTAIN: As the fire was smoldering and burning, it was giving off toxic and flammable gases. Those gases found enough air to suddenly ignite and flash and push the ceiling down. That's when the firefighters were very quickly overcome and scrambling to get out as other firefighters were rushing in to rescue them.
COOK: Two of the firefighters were killed - Paul Cahill and Warren Payne. The city's investigating the cause of their death. Ten other firefighters and one paramedic were injured.
Clean-up continued on Centre Street yesterday. The restaurant Tai Ho Mandarin and Cantonese Cuisine was blocked off from the street by police tape. The front windows were smashed. City records show the restaurant had health violations for food storage and plumbing. Electric crews worked to bring back power to the area
Some West Roxbury firefighters- still wearing their gear- came back for their trucks. An engine and ladder had been left at the scene overnight.
Owners of the other local businesses were trying to sort through the damage. Nick Grande's shop is next to the Chinese restaurant.
GRANDE: Me and my brother own Imperial. We do embroidery and promotional items. We just went inside - a little bit of smoke damage.
COOK: Outside the West Roxbury fire station, mourners left bouquets, cards and stuffed animals. The local firefighters stood inside - watching the scene through the garage door.
For WBUR, I'm Nancy Cook.
This program aired on August 31, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.
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