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Sixty Flee Afternoon Theater Fire Near Harvard Square

May 25, 1986

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ About 60 movie-goers were forced to flee a three-screen theater near Harvard Square on Saturday when the popcorn machine caught fire, spreading flames through the building and pouring smoke into an adjoining restaurant.

No injuries were reported as patrons at the Orson Welles Cinema filed out emergency exits.

Bill White, a manager at the two-level theater known for its off-beat films, said the oil in the popcorn maker in the lobby apparently caught fire. He said he quickly reached for a fire extinguisher, but ″by the time I got over there, it was out of control.″

Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Fitzgerald said the entire first floor was engulfed when the first units arrived.

Fire officials estimated damage at $250,000.

″I kept thinking what it would be like if it was packed,″ said Mary Seaman of Sommerville, who was about 15 minutes into watching ″Dreamchild″ when the three-alarm fire broke out at 2 p.m.

Ms. Seaman said some patrons did rush to leave, but there was no panicking. Heavy smoke spread through the building and into a Chi-Chi’s mexican restaurant next door and a video rental store below the restaurant.

Employees at the restaurant said there were about 20 patrons and another 15 workers inside, but all were evacuated swiftly.

At Video Smith, employees said smoke already had spread into the stairwell when they were alerted to the blaze.

″It was full of smoke,″ said Paul Spagnuolo, a sales clerk at the basement-level store. ″You had to cover your face and eyes and stagger up the stairs to get out.″ He said there were about 10 people in the store at the time.

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