Chelsea (MA) Recalls Fire that Destroyed 18 Blocks

Fire Chief Herbert Fothergill hovered in a helicopter over Chelsea in 1973, watching flames engulf 18 blocks of the city, reports The Boston Globe.

A fire alarm was struck at 3:56 p.m. on Oct. 14 for a blaze that began on Spruce and Summer streets, and to firefighters’ dismay, it wasn’t letting up. Fothergill radioed commands to his crews, who were able to quell the conflagration after a tenacious 24-hour battle, recalled the chief’s son, Chuck.

Miraculously, no one died in the Great Chelsea Fire, but it destroyed 300 buildings and homes and displaced 1,000 people. It took days before firefighters fully extinguished the smoldering remnants. A cause and monetary damage were never determined.

“It was chaotic for sure,” said Louis Addonizio, who fought the fire at age 26 and was Chelsea’s fire chief from 1990 to 2003. “It was a very intense time and a fast-moving fire.”

Now, the 40th anniversary of the spectacular fire brings memories of lessons learned.

Chelsea had suffered from an even greater fire in 1908, and rebuilt without adequate precautions, officials have said. After the 1973 fire, the city revamped its zoning laws to prevent another fire of that magnitude.

Both fires occurred in Chelsea’s “rag shop district,” cluttered streets filled with junk shops hawking scraps, metal, and combustible items. Wood-frame buildings and three- to six-family houses were built tightly together.

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