A massive brush fire, fueled by the ignition of Phragmites via a homeless encampment near the Gateway Mall, has brought an immediate effort to identify and clear the invasive Phragmites from Everett’s waterfront and marsh areas.
The fire on April 6 came just as officials, including the City Administration, Fire Chief Tony Carli and State Rep. Joe McGonagle had been calling for the removal of the Phragmites near the Gateway Mall as a safety measure.
However, facing some pushback from the state, nothing had gotten done and soon after the blaze ignited and threatened many of the nearby structures – and potentially the lives of firefighters who were unknowingly in harm’s way from the homeless encampment’s stash of propane tanks.
“Deputy Cardinale did a great job getting to the area and knocking it down quickly – preventing it from spreading to the Mall,” said Chief Carli. “We knew there were homeless people living along the River. We knew a couple groups of them were up closer to Malden. This encampment caught us by surprise because it was so close to the highway that you couldn’t see it. Once we saw how quick that fire was moving, we got it down fast. Ten or 20 years ago, we didn’t have too many structures near that area. It’s just not good to have that interface between the vegetation and these structures.”
Due to the concerning nature of the fire and the threat to nearby buildings, Chief Carli issued an emergency order to the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) – with the sustained advocacy of Rep. McGonagle – that allowed for the Phragmites to be removed immediately as a public safety measure. With that, crews moved in immediately – with approval afterward by the Conservation Commission – to remove the invasive Phragmites along the Malden River and its tributaries. A longer-term plan for the Malden River has been to remove the Phragmites and other invasive species, and to replace them with native plants and shrubs that lived along the Malden River years ago. The fire has seemingly sped up that process.
Meanwhile, Chief Carli said another issue is the safety of firefighters as they moved in to put out the fire and didn’t know of the homeless encampment. No one in the encampment was present or injured, but there were several propane tanks that were stored in the area that could have exploded and injured fire crews. Luckily, Carli said, that didn’t happen.
“It really could have been a dangerous situation for the membership,” he said. “There were probably in excess of 20 to 25 propane tanks down there. They could have exploded from the fire, but thankfully they didn’t. When we show up at a fire like this, we don’t expect to see that in that area. At a grass fire in a location like that, we don’t expect to see humans there.”
Chief Carli reiterated he issued the emergency declaration because the situation just wasn’t safe.
“We want everyone to be safe, and that wasn’t a safe situation,” he said.