Flashover Photo Gives Insight into Deadly Boston Fire

A blaze at the Tai Ho restaurant killed firefighters Paul Cahill and Warren Payne, Aug. 29.


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A new digital photo showing the terrible power of a fireball that killed two Boston firefighters is helping investigators understand more about what happened at the Tai Ho Restaurant in West Roxbury.

The image also helps to understand even more clearly the risks that come with fighting any fire, even ones that look routine.

The photo was taken by someone at the scene with a cell phone camera.

Firefighters said the picture makes even the most seasoned among them wince, not because it shows flames, but because it shows an explosion.

What it may also show is clues about what killed firefighters Paul Cahill and Warren Payne.

"I've never seen such a violent sudden flashover, if that is what we're looking at," said Boston Firefighters Union President Edward Kelly.

The picture has been circulated throughout the entire firefighting community and scrutinized by investigators.

"What I think we're seeing is possibly a backdraft condition or a violent, sudden flashover," Kelly said.

Kelly said those are the two possible scenarios investigators are now looking at.

Most people know the backdraft phenomenon from Hollywood. It's when an oxygen-deprived space meets a waft of fresh air, causing an explosion.

"The backdraft phenomenon is a very rare occurrence," Kelly said.

The flashover is much more common.

"(A flashover is) the products of combustion, superheated gases, which overwhelm that space and eventually flash over very suddenly," Kelly said. "It could be the products of the cockloft burning for an extended period of time. These are some of the things that our board of inquiry is looking into."

In fact, the fire chief has said the fire smoldered for more than an hour undetected inside a drop ceiling where kitchen grease had accumulated. Then to further fuel the fire, a three-ton air conditioner fell through, sending a burst of air through the hole.

There is a 10-person board of inquiry looking at the picture and at all other evidence from the fire. It is unknown when a final report will be submitted, but investigators said they will spend as much time as it takes.

Republished with permission of WBZ-TV.