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Investigation Underway Into Massive Fire In East Boston

An investigation is underway into the cause of a massive fire Friday in East Boston that originated at a casket-making company. The 9-alarm blaze left five first responders with minor injuries.

The fire completely destroyed the New England Casket Company, which owner Lou Tobia says has been around for almost a century.

Tobia says he's thinking about the nearly 100 employees that have been impacted by the destruction. "It's one of those things, you can't bury your head in the sand. You have to move on," he says.

Boston Fire Commissioner Joe Finn says there are "millions and millions of dollars" in damages and that the business is a total loss.

When asked if the business will open again, Tobia responded, "Why not? We'll try."

On Friday, authorities evacuated residents of the Orient Heights neighborhood.

“Our concern now is there are a bunch of chemicals in the building that are used as lacquers and thinners and things like that that are bringing a concern to us,” Finn said.

Finn said authorities are monitoring the chemicals and toxins in the atmosphere from the fire, and that "they are well within the acceptable range."

One police officer who was helping evacuate residents was treated for smoke inhalation. Finn said none of the workers in the building were injured.

“Police were driving up and down the street, asking people to evacuate,” said Connor Jastrebski, who lives nearby on Gladstone Street. "So I’m just walking around trying to figure out what’s going on.”

Heavy fire at New England Casket Company at 1141 Bennington St. was reported at around 3 p.m., Boston fire officials said. Within three hours, firefighters had increased the 3-alarm fire to a 9-alarm fire. At 8 p.m., ash continued to fall several blocks away from the scene of the fire, and several blocks remained roped off by police.

“Some people are just in shock, you know," said Yvonne Payne, who lives on Bennington Street. "There are a lot of people hanging around looking in that direction wondering how close that fire is going to get to the houses. Because if one gets hit then it’s going to be like a domino effect. So that’s their fear. So I’m sure no one’s going to sleep tonight."

At the Paris Street Community Center evacuation center, there were about a dozen people at 9:30 Friday evening. Residents and Red Cross staff believed many had opted to stay with nearby family or at hotels in the area.

Multiple fire departments from around Greater Boston responded to the fire.

Shuttle buses replaced all MBTA Blue Line trains in both directions, per the request of the fire department.

Lisa Creamer Twitter Digital News Editor and Producer
Lisa Creamer is a digital editor and producer at WBUR.

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Miriam Wasser Twitter Reporter, EarthWhile
Miriam Wasser is a reporter for WBUR's environmental vertical.

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