BOSTON -- A nine-alarm fire broke out in the 52-story Prudential Tower Thursday, forcing thousands of office workers to flee down smoke-filled stairwells, injuring at least 18 people and knocking a radio station off the air.
Fourteen people were hospitalized, including four firefighters who had to be carried from the building on stetchers, Fire Capt. Matthew Corbett said, but none of the injured was in serious condition and most had been released by Thursday night.
Four other workers in the building were treated at the scene, Corbett said.
Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, an avid jogger, rushed to the building when he heard of the fire, walked up 11 stories and escorted two elderly women to safety, witnesses said. The mayor later praised firefighters for dousing the blaze quickly and said the smooth evacuation was 'amazing.'
'You just felt so helpless and defenseless,' said a woman office worker who was ushered to safety down a smoky staircase by firefighters. 'Just sitting up there, you felt like a dead duck.'
More than 150 firefighters wearing masks and airpacks battled the blaze, which filled the buildings corridors, elevator shafts and stairwells with smoke.
Firefighters smashed windows to let the smoke and flames out of the building, raining glass on sidewalks below.
The cause of the blaze had not been determined. Authorities estimated damage to the building, which is owned by the Prudential Insurance Co. of America, would run into the millions of dollars.
WEEI-AM, an all-news radio station on the building's 44th floor, was forced off the air when station personnel were ordered to evacuate the building along with hundreds of other workers. The station resumed broadcasts 20 minutes later at nearby studios of WHDH-AM.
Fire Commissioner Leo Stapleton said the blaze broke out about 5 p.m. EST on the unoccupied 14th floor, which was undergoing renovations. Most of the floor was gutted, he said.
Firefighters quickly evacuated 46 stories of the tower, one of the city's major downtown office buildings, and brought the blaze under control about an hour later.
The injured included 20 people in the building and seven firefighters, Stapleton said. All suffered heat exhaustion or smoke inhalation and were taken to nearby hospitals, he said.
Several people were trapped on the upper floors of the tower but they were evacuated when the smoke cleared and Stapleton said they never were in immediate danger.
'This is a very serious fire with thousands of people involved,' Stapleton said. 'You can't get word to them all.'
The job of firefighters was hindered by lack of sprinklers in the 20-year-old building, which was built eight years before a city ordinance requiring the systems.
'A spinkler system will make the difference,' Stapleton said. 'Every firefighter will tell you that.'
Thick, white smoke clouded the stairwells as workers fled for safety, bypassing elevators shut down by the blaze. Water an inch deep from fire hoses poured down the stairs, making the escape more difficult, witnesses said.
Terry Obey, a waitress at the Top of the Hub restaurant on the building's 52nd floor, said 'people started to panic' when the evacuation started.
But she added, 'Once they knew what was going on, they were OK. We're glad to be down. It was a long walk.'
'We have a lot of smoke in the hallways,' said WEEI producer Jon Hall. 'The smoke irritates your eyes. But nobody is panicking. There is some teary eyes and there's a lot of concern.'