Firefighters Struggle To Control Electrical Fire in Crate & Barrel

While many students spent yesterday afternoon outside enjoying the sunny, 60-degree weather, firefighters experienced temperatures that soared into the hundreds inside the dark, burning basement of the Crate & Barrel store on Brattle Street.

Thick black smoke began pouring into the surrounding area from the burning building, forcing police and fire officials to block off area traffic.

The three-alarm fire began at about 2 p.m. in a basement storage room beneath Crate & Barrel and caused over $150,000 in damages, according to Deputy Fire Chief Gerald Reardon.

"I was cutting hair. The next thing I know, I look up and all of a sudden there's smoke everywhere," said John Mitchell, a barber at Custom Barber-Shop on the opposite side of Brattle Street.

Beth A. Wargo, Crate & Barrel's assistant manager, said she had no idea how the fire started, but Reardon said that electrical problems probably caused the blaze.


Although no one was injured, the housewares store and neighboring buildings were evacuated, including the Harvard-owned complex at 4-10 Story St. which houses the Radcliffe Development Office and the mental health department of University Health Services.

According to Rebecca Roth, Crate & Barrel's designer, smoke detectors within the building did not trigger the alarm. Instead, employees said, they smelled smoke and someone pulled the fire alarm.

Roth said she could not remember there being any other fires at the store in recent years.

But late last September, a fire at the adjacent 4-10 Story St. building resulted in approximately $50,000 in damages.

Coincidentally, employees of Radcliffe Development Office, located at 8 Story St., said they were not present in the building yesterday afternoon because of "building problems" from last September's fire.

They said that ventilation problems had led them to hold meetings outside the office.

"I can't believe this. Six months later there's a fire in this same location," said one employee who asked to remain anonymous.

By 2:30 p.m., more than a dozen fire trucks and approximately 65 firefighters had arrived to combat the hard-to-reach blaze, but at 3 p.m. the firefighters were still having trouble locating the source of the fire because of the heavy smoke.

The room was so hot that the water from the fire trucks' hoses dissolved into steam, preventing the firefighters from putting out the blaze quickly, according to firefighters.

But by 4:15 p.m., the fire had been successfully "knocked down," according to a paramedic on the scene.

Reardon credited the firefighters with preventing the spread of the fire.

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