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‘There’s 100 people without a place to live’: 4-alarm fire rips through Cambridge building

Some 100 residents of a condominium building in Harvard Square were driven out of their homes Tuesday night after a fire that began in one unit spread throughout the high-rise, forcing some to retreat to balconies before being guided by firefighters to safety.

Arriving Cambridge firefighters saw heavy flames pouring out of the building and some residents on balconies, said acting Cambridge Fire Chief Gerard Mahoney.

Firefighters maneuvered trucks underneath MBTA trolley power lines, positioned them on either side of the building, and began pouring water on the flames while separate crews of firefighters worked their way up stairwells to guide residents to safety, he said.

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“Despite what you see on TV, the preferred method of removing somebody is down the stairwell,” Mahoney said. Two residents were transported to area hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries, two cats died, and one firefighter suffered a hand injury.

Mahoney said the 4-alarm fire could have been a minimal event if the building and the 48 condo units had sprinklers installed, Mahoney said.

The building, which was built in the 1970s, did not have sprinklers installed because an exemption in Massachusetts law states that a condominium built prior to January 1975 is not required to have a sprinkler system, Mahoney said.

He estimated the fire caused “$3 to $5 million” in damage, including significant fire damage in at least two units, and noted that all of the residents were renters who he hoped had renters’ insurance. He said the fire started in the kitchen in a third-floor unit and spread throughout the building. Mahoney said firefighters are “pretty confident” the fire’s cause has been traced down to a faulty compressor on a refrigerator in that unit.

“The facts speak for themselves,” said Mahoney. “There’s 100 people without a place to live this morning.”

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The department responded to a call at 14 Concord Ave., the address of the Continental Gardens condominiums, around 11:48 p.m. Tuesday. The fire was placed under control after about two hours, according to the department’s official Twitter account.

The Red Cross and city staff have been working to set up displaced residents in temporary living arrangements. Last night, around 30 people were placed in the Sheraton Commander Hotel near Cambridge Commons, Mahoney said.

Brittany Bowker of the Globe staff contributed to this story.


John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.