(Updates with confirmation of firefighters killed, new details throughout)
By Victoria Cavaliere
BOSTON, March 26 (Reuters) - Two firefighters were killed and at least 17 people were injured on Wednesday when a massive fire fueled by strong winds ripped through a four-story building in Boston's historic Back Bay neighborhood, city and fire officials said.
The two Boston firefighters who died while battling the 9-alarm blaze were found in the basement of the building and had placed a "mayday" call, or a distress call, moments after gaining entrance underground, said Boston Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Finn.
The firefighters were identified at a late Wednesday news conference as Boston Fire Department veterans Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy.
"It's a sad day for the city of Boston. We lost two heroes here today," said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. "It's unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to appreciate the work that the men and women of the Boston Fire Department do."
More than 150 firefighters responded to the fire and all the residents of the building who were home when the fire broke out were able to get out, fire officials said. Some of them escaped from the fourth floor.
Boston Emergency Medical Service said it had taken 17 people to area hospitals.
The cause of the blaze was still under investigation.
The powerful fire appears to have started in the basement and ripped through the four-story building, divided into apartments, "like a blowtorch," Finn said.
Wind gusts in Boston on Wednesday that reached about 50 miles (80 km) per hour contributed to the fire spreading quickly, according to Finn.
"In 30 years I've never seen a fire travel that fast, escalate that quickly and create such havoc in such a short period of time," he said.
The fire quickly tore through the historic brownstone building that local officials said had been standing on Boston's famous Beacon Street since the 19th Century.
Firefighters said they focused on keeping it from spreading to neighboring buildings in the densely populated area of central Boston.
Live television video showed an enormous plume of smoke rising from the building, and hovering over the city. State police said they closed a major roadway along the Charles River behind the burning building. (Reporting by Scott Malone; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Brendan O'Brien, Gunna Dickson and Ken Wills)