24 Hurt, Hundreds Flee as Fire Hits 52-Story Boston Building

Associated Press

A smoky fire broke out at the Prudential Center on Thursday, injuring at least two dozen people and forcing hundreds of people to evacuate the 52-story office building, authorities said.

Twenty office workers and four firefighters were injured in the 5 p.m. blaze, which was brought under control about two hours later, Fire Commissioner Leo Stapleton said. Most of the injured required treatment for smoke inhalation.

Scores of firefighters wearing oxygen masks searched for anybody who might have been unable to get out. About 2,500 people work in the building, known locally as "The Pru."

Out of Oxygen

"They are running out of oxygen bottles," said Capt. Matthew Corbett, a Fire Department spokesman. "We are bringing them in as fast as we can. We don't know how many people are up there. We don't know how many people are hurt."

The fire apparently broke out on the 14th floor, which was vacant except for construction equipment, and spread to at least two other floors after blowing out several windows, Corbett said.

"If there had been sprinklers, this probably would have been controlled by one or two sprinkler heads," Stapleton said, adding that automatic sprinklers are only now being installed because they were not required when the building was constructed in the early 1960s.

A restaurant on the 52nd floor began filling with smoke about 5:15 p.m., said Dot Kayes, a waitress. The order to evacuate the building came over a loudspeaker a short time later.

Halfway down the stairs, "the smoke got so bad we had to hold napkins over our faces. People were using everything: hats and coats to block out the smoke, it was so bad," she said.

Keep Evacuees Calm

At the 20th floor, firefighters met evacuees to administer oxygen and keep them calm.

The cause of the fire, which was controlled about an hour after it began, was under investigation.

Rod Fritz of radio station WEEI, which is on the building's 44th floor, said some employees who had gone into the halls had been driven back by heavy white smoke. The station switched operations to another station about an hour after the fire broke out and employees were evacuated.

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