Flames and thick smoke poured out of the old press box on the roof of the historic Suffolk Downs building that overlooks the retired race track late Monday night.
Boston firefighters were at the scene in East Boston from 10 p.m. Monday long into Tuesday battling the blaze.
There was very heavy smoke on arrival and the fire seemed to be concentrated in the simulcast booth at the top section of the historic building that overlooks the old race track, Boston Fire Commissioner John Dempsey said.
There hasn’t been live horse racing at Suffolk Downs since 2019, and the property has been sold to a development group that has been given approval for a 10.5 million-square-foot residential, retail and open space development on the 109 acres of the Suffolk Downs site.
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PHOTOS: Fire Ravages Suffolk Downs in Boston
While there was security on site, no one was injured in the fire, fire officials said. They were able to stick to an exterior firefight by using a drone to pinpoint the hot spots.
“The drone is a great tool. We can get a bird’s eye view of the whole building and it actually has thermal imaging,” Dempsey said. “We can see if the fire’s traveling in the roof, underneath the roof, so we can see if it’s spreading further down the building or not, so we can really isolate where we’re targeting with the help of the drone.”
Dempsey had said that firefighters had a difficult time with water given its scarcity in the area, as crews had to run thousands of feet of hoses to procure it.
Fire crews remained on scene Tuesday morning to keep an eye on hot spots, as well as try to determine the cause and origin of the fire.
Pete Dambrosio who walks the grounds every day with his dog Snoopy said, "I couldn’t believe it, I thought it was going to be worse than it is though, thank God."
"They just couldn’t get that one flame out," said Tiffany Ingemi, who lives nearby and watched as firefighters struggled to find fire hydrants and pump water onto the flames. "They couldn’t find any hydrants, so we saw them knocking down a fence at my neighbor’s house, jumping over there and using that hydrant, and then I went over and told them there was another hydrant a couple doors down."
A representative for property owner HYM Investment group said that the fire did not impact the part of Suffolk Downs that's under construction, and that redevelopment of the site remained ongoing.
"We are grateful to the Boston Fire Department and all of the emergency personnel for their quick response," the statement said.