Off Campus

The boathouse is on fire! River community acts quickly to extinguish flames

When the school’s boathouse caught fire last month, a competitor ran to put it out. Noble and Greenough’s director of rowing, Blair Crawford, was arriving for a morning scull at the Cambridge Boat Club (CBC) on May 8 when he observed smoke rising from the boathouse adjacent to CBC  and a single runner signaling for help. Mr. Crawford ran to see the fire and raced back to CBC to retrieve a fire extinguisher, he said.

“By this time, flames were licking up the side of the boathouse,” Mr. Crawford told The Vanguard. 

The origin of the fire appeared to be the mulch at the base, Mr. Crawford said, so he directed the fire extinguisher there. But the fire was still moving up the side toward the roof. Soon several pedestrians were joining in the effort to beat the blaze, taking safety cones and filling them with river water and pouring it over the flames. 

It was just before 8 a.m., and Alexi Melki ’21, Philip Melki ’19, and their mother were passing over the Eliot Bridge on their daily drive to school. Seeing the smoke rising over the boathouse, Alexi called 911, Philip ran over to the school to alert Upper School Science Teacher and Assistant Boys’ Crew Coach Stephanie Guilmet, and their mother called Head Boys’ Crew Coach Adam Holland. Soon after, three fire engines showed up.

By 8:15 a.m., within minutes of the Cambridge Fire Department’s arrival, the early morning fire had been contained. 

The fire drew many students outdoors to observe the scene as the fire was being extinguished. The majority of the damage was confined to the exterior of the boathouse—remaining was a scorched outer wall. Part of the roof had to be removed temporarily to allow smoke to leave the building. 

Ms. Guilmet followed up with the fire department and later praised their response.

“They got there quick, and they put out the fire immediately,” she said. “Nothing in the boathouse was damaged, and the crew teams had practice that day.” 

“The only compromise they had to make was the fact that the boathouse smelled like a campfire for the next couple of days,” she added.

Firefighters on the scene concluded that the fire had most likely been accidental and caused by a passerby who had unknowingly flicked a cigarette into the flammable mulch surrounding the boathouse, Ms. Guilmet said. Fires such as these are not uncommon and often spread to the actual property if not contained, the firefighters told Ms. Guilmet. 

About his small part in the drama, Nobles’ Mr. Crawford said, “I was happy to help our friends at BB&N.”

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