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Fire hits Chestnut Hill; South provides refuge

Posted By Astha Agarwal On March 23, 2011 @ 1:39 am In News | Comments Disabled

February 18 began like any other day for freshman Deyar Dashti, who left her Chestnut Hill Towers apartment for school that morning.
She always just dreamed of adventure, but what met her that afternoon was more than she ever expected. When she arrived home from school, ready to begin her February vacation, she found it surrounded by policemen, fire brigades, and medical staff.
An electrical unit’s failure started a fitre that displaced about 200 residents from their homes for two days, leaving them to find shelter with family and friends, to pay $69 a night for a room at the Crowne Plaza, or to sleep on an army cot in South’s cafeteria.
Spanish teacher Helena Alfonzo, also a resident of the Towers, was in her apartment when she heard that she needed to evacuate.
“Because this [kind of thing] happens a lot, I left with just my sweater and my keys – no coat, no purse, no wallet, no credit or debit cards, no cash, and no ID. I didn’t have anything,” she said.
“The policemen told us we couldn’t go up to our apartment,” Dashti said, “But after three hours, when we came back, they told us the problem was bigger than they thought it would be. So we couldn’t sleep there.”
The Towers’ management and the Newton Fire Department, along with other city staff, safely rescued all the residents whose units lost power. Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority buses arrived to take them to a Red Cross relief center stationed at South’s cafeteria, because, according to Newton Fire Deputy Chief

ebruary 18 began like any other day for freshman Deyar Dashti, who left her Chestnut Hill Towers apartment for school that morning.She always just dreamed of adventure, but what met her that afternoon was more than she ever expected. When she arrived home from school, ready to begin her February vacation, she found it surrounded by policemen, fire brigades, and medical staff.An electrical unit’s failure started a fitre that displaced about 200 residents from their homes for two days, leaving them to find shelter with family and friends, to pay $69 a night for a room at the Crowne Plaza, or to sleep on an army cot in South’s cafeteria.Spanish teacher Helena Alfonzo, also a resident of the Towers, was in her apartment when she heard that she needed to evacuate. “Because this [kind of thing] happens a lot, I left with just my sweater and my keys – no coat, no purse, no wallet, no credit or debit cards, no cash, and no ID. I didn’t have anything,” she said.“The policemen told us we couldn’t go up to our apartment,” Dashti said, “But after three hours, when we came back, they told us the problem was bigger than they thought it would be. So we couldn’t sleep there.”The Towers’ management and the Newton Fire Department, along with other city staff, safely rescued all the residents whose units lost power. Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority buses arrived to take them to a Red Cross relief center stationed at South’s cafeteria, because, according to Newton Fire Deputy ChiefMichael Castro, Newton South is the official shelter for the south side of Newton.
He said, however, that accommodations were very basic; the cots, for example, were designed only for temporary living of up to four days.
In the end, all the residents decided against using the cots and went to stay with family and friends or to pay the reduced rate at the hotel.
Dashti’s family stayed at her cousin’s house in Cambridge until the complex’s management allowed residents to move back to their apartments.
Although the fire was contained in the Towers’ concrete basement room, it damaged the transformer and other electrical equipment and residents’ personal belongings, forcing NStar to cut power to the building.
“The initial damage was about $300,000 in the equipment itself,” Castro said, “But there’s consumable stuff in the refrigerators [in individual units].”
According to Castro, the blanket insurance policy for the complex will cover claims that residents make for such consumable items.
“We weren’t allowed to go upstairs because we didn’t have anything important in our apartment. Only elderly people were allowed to go back, with a firefighter, to get their medications from their refrigerators,” Dashti said.
Castro and many other Towers residents commended all the city staff and management involved for their aid in a safe evacuation and for their great response to the situation.
“It wasn’t an immediate decision to evacuate [the Towers] because they thought it could be restored quickly,” Castro said. “We had to evacuate 423 units with minimal lighting and no elevators.”
He continued to say that the subsequent efforts went as planned: safely and efficiently.
Many of the residents were elderly, and had to be carried down several flights of stairs by staff. There were no injuries, and after the evacuation, the Fire Department went back and checked all the rooms to make sure that no residents remained.
Alfonzo agreed, “The management acted in a very proper way, and everybody was safe. And nobody was hurt, so I was really, really grateful.”
This was the Towers’ first evacuation since 1980, and the management has been collaboration with the Newton Fire Department to take measures in preventing such fires in the future.
The Towers reopened on Feb 21.

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