Twenty years ago today, February 9, 2000, in the early afternoon I was in the Newton TAB offices when someone called in about a fire in Chestnut Hill. I was asked if I could take a run over and check it out. Often these calls ended up being a toaster fire or an overheated car radiator. Not wanting to go on a wild goose chase, I called the Newton Fire Chief’s office to ask what was going on. The secretary answered and when I identified myself, she said something like “I don’t have time for this” and hung up the phone. Something big was going on.
I told the editor that I would head over and check it out. Two reporters accompanied me and as we drove up Route 9 a huge plume was smoke was visible in the distance. That week’s issue of the paper was close to deadline. For the first and only time in my career, I called the Newton editor and said “Hold the presses…hold the front page it’s something big.” The car was stuck in traffic, so I hopped out and ran up the street to the scene.
Arriving at the 200 block of Boyalston Street (Route 9) there were many fire engines and ladder trucks. All sorts of mayhem. There were people all over the place and hoses covering the ground. Smoke was billowing out of the building in such a quantity that at one point the wind shifted and I was engulfed, literally not being able to see my hand one inch in front of my face.
Newton had 10 companies there, along with companies from 10 other communities. Because there was so much going on all around, the overwhelmed police didn’t really push the photographers back, as long as, you kept your distance and didn’t get in the way.
In the aftermath, five people perished in the blaze . It was a sad day in Newton’s history, one that will always be remembered by those who were there. Twenty years later the site has been rebuilt. It is now the complex that houses Wegman’s and other stores. The scars of destroyed buildings have been erased but the memories will remain forever.