Thick, black smoke fumed over Hanover Street in Boston's North End Wednesday evening.
Officials with the Boston Fire Department said its response to the blaze during the dinner rush was made more complicated by outdoor dining areas set up along the busy street.
"I was just walking by and I saw a ton of smoke in the alleyway," said Sarah Lipworth. "I've lived in the North End for two years, and I don't know, I've never seen anything like this before."
Witnesses posted videos of the smoke on social media shortly after the fire broke out at 5:45 p.m.
Multiple fire trucks squeezed in through the narrow street, known for its bustling restaurants and busy sidewalks, as they tried to reach the fourth floor of the burning building.
"Access was difficult," said Boston Fire Commissioner Jack Dempsey. "In the North End, as tight as it is, outdoor dining doesn't help with that."
Some restaurants along Hanover Street are permitted to set up dining tables where there would otherwise be parking spots.
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Dempsey said the fire started on the fourth floor and spread from the inside onto the roof.
"When we showed up, heavy smoke was showing from the top floor. The occupants self-evacuated from the whole building, including the restaurant at the bottom," said Dempsey.
Amado Vasquez is a cook at Ristorante Saraceno next door. He was working when the fire broke out.
"We were in the kitchen, and then we saw the flames and we were told to quickly get out," said Vasquez.
That's around the time North End resident Jeanne Macdonald got a message from her neighbors asking for help to rescue their two dogs. Unable to access the building, she got police and firefighters to retrieve them.
"Happy story! The dogs are safe," she said. "I believe everybody else is safe, and God bless the fire department and the police department. They're the best!"
Dempsey said the buildings housing two neighborhood restaurants — Bella Vista and Ristorante Saraceno — sustained some water damage and will remain closed the time being. The fire commissioner believed the damage was such that they could be back in business soon.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.