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East Boston - Lessons from a severe fire

The nine-alarm April 8, 2000, fire at East Boston’s Orient Heights Yacht Club was so severe that David Mager, a deputy fire chief with the Boston Fire Department, speaks to other fire departments around the country about it. Most recently he made a presentation about the fire at the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ annual convention last August.

“It’s a significant fire in terms of all the factors that were against us,” Mager says. “I talk about how the wind, our accessibility to the fire and the lack of water (because the wind was blowing it right back in our faces — we could only come at the building from one side) made it all but impossible to attack this fire.”

With the wind blowing at nearly 35 knots with frequent gusts reaching almost 60 knots, and the fire located upwind, the flames were fanned beneath the building and it was quickly consumed, Mager says. “We also had communications problems and had to deal with embers blowing in the wind,” he says. “There were fires in trees, in backyards — porches were on fire. Firefighters were burned, too. It was a challenge organizing all the work that was going on.”

Mager says he’s been speaking to fire departments about the yacht club fire two or three times a year since Feb. 2001. He plans on making his next presentation sometime this spring.

“One way we learn is by learning about the past,” Mager says. “I try to take the lessons we learned in this fire, and apply them to possible future situations that could happen anywhere. There are certain situations that we need to think about and to pre-plan for so we can be best prepared in the future.”