WATERVILLE — The fire that destroyed a flooring company’s storage building on Drummond Avenue on Christmas could have been avoided if wood ashes that ignited it had been disposed of properly, according to the Waterville Fire Department.

Fire officials say complacency about home-heating safety this time of year is a common problem and causes an increase in fires.

Wood stove ashes left in a garage attached to Robert Grenier’s home ignited the fire, which heavily damaged the house and destroyed the garage Wednesday afternoon, fire officials said. The building housed storage supplies for his business, Grenier’s Classic Flooring.

Grenier suffered second-degree burns on his right hand and was treated at the scene. The building and everything in it – including carpeting, tiling, a van, a trailer and a forklift – were destroyed. Four other people were in the house preparing Christmas dinner when the fire occurred, but made it out safely, according to the fire department.

The ashes had been stored in a plastic bin inside the garage near other flammable objects, increasing the risk of a fire, according to Capt. Michael Michaud for Waterville Fire Department.

“When you clean out your wood stove or fireplace, put the ashes in a metal bucket and place it outside and at least 20 feet away from anything combustible,” Michaud said. “Hot coals and embers can either ignite the plastic bucket or melt through them and ignite the surrounding objects.”

Ash fires like the one on Drummond Avenue are naturally more prevalent during the colder months when people are heating homes with wood stoves.

“Across the state you’ll see a rise in these types of fires every year – people get complacent and make that mistake,” Michaud said. “Most people in general are aware of the hazard of putting ashes in something other than a metal can and putting them on a back porch or in a garage. But people get complacent sometimes, and the cold weather contributes. People don’t want to walk outside when it’s snowing or raining and will just put the ashes in the garage until they leave for the supermarket.”

From 2008 to 2010, more than 38 percent of heating fires happened during December or January, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

The Christmas Day fire’s smoke plume was highly visible and drew an audience, which combined with icy conditions made battling the fire difficult and created a treacherous situation for both responders and onlookers, Michaud said.

“When the fire is happening, it’s important for people to stay away,” Michaud said. “I know it’s a big draw, especially a fire as big as that one was, but it’s important people stay back so we can get the equipment that we need.”

Jesse Scardina can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

jscardina@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @jessescardina