On the morning of July 25, Brendan Ryan, a 2011 College of Arts and Sciences graduate, woke up to the jarring sound of smoke alarms.
In one of 18 fires that have occurred in Somerville since early July, Ryan’s apartment in the Somerville neighborhood was completely destroyed.
“When I stood up, I could smell the smoke,” Ryan said. “I looked out to the back porch and it was engulfed in flames. All my roommates were up because everyone was screaming. I ran out, and watched my house burn down. It was a huge fire, it was really terrifying.”
Somerville Fire Department Chief Kevin Kelleher said the fire that occurred on July 25 at 19 Calvin St., home of two CAS graduates, Ryan and Daria Whalen, is currently still under investigation, along with 10 other fires in the area.Of the 18 fires that have caused millions of dollars in damage for Somerville residents, four have been declared incendiary, four have been ruled accidental and 10 are still under investigation.
On Thursday, a blaze came through 10 Laurel Terrace. Other affected locations include 313 Summer St. and 85 Bromfield Road.
“We’ve pinpointed the point of origin of all of the fires, we just haven’t found the cause of them all,” Kelleher said. “Sometimes it takes a lot of investigation and repeat interviews to try to figure out exactly what took place at a given time.”
Kelleher said the Somerville Fire Department and the Somerville Police Department are working in conjunction with state police troopers assigned to the fire marshal’s office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to trace the cause of these fires.
At the time of the fire, Ryan said he quickly collected a backpack to fill with a few clothes and electronics, and he picked up an umbrella because he he did not want to get wet standing out on the curb waiting for the fire to subside and for information on the state of his home.
Aside from his few clothes and electronics that he grabbed before he evacuated his apartment, Ryan said his other belongings were unsalvageable.
“I lost pretty much everything — everything I had,” Ryan said. “I was very jumpy for a week after it [the fire] … I tried not to focus on the stuff I lost. No one got hurt, so I just tried to think about it that way.”
Ryan that the experience of fleeing his burning home was surreal.
“It’s weird,” Ryan said. “I don’t really remember very much. It was like reflex almost. Instinct takes over in situations like that.”
Ryan said he was living with Whalen, a fellow CAS 2011 graduate, when the fire occurred. However, she was visiting her parents in Albany, N.Y. at the time.
“I got a phone call at 6 a.m. from my boyfriend who was in the apartment saying, ‘Hey, I just wanted to be the first one to tell you that our house is burning down,’” Whalen said.
When Whalen returned to Somerville that following Monday, she went to see the space where her apartment once stood.
“I didn’t know how to react or process it at all,” Whalen said. “I was really glad that everybody was okay, but it was still really terrifying to not be able to be there and see what had happened. I wasn’t really able to get closure.”
Whalen said since she and Ryan do not have homeowners’ or renters’ insurance, they were not compensated for the things they lost in the fire. She said they have received a generous amount of aid from friends, family and the American Red Cross.
“The Red Cross helped out a ton, especially right after the fire,” Whalen said. “When I got back on Monday they had an ATM card for me to buy bedding, linens and food and stuff like that. We had a bunch of friends who offered [and provided] places to stay, which was the biggest thing because we were all homeless for a long time.”
Ryan and Whalen said despite enduring the loss of their home, their outlook on Somerville hasn’t changed, and both said they would move back to the area.
“I recognize that it [the fire] was a fluke,” Ryan said. “I’m not afraid of the neighborhood.”