WATERVILLE — The owner of a flooring business whose storage barn and attached buildings were destroyed by fire on Christmas Day disputes fire officials’ theory that the blaze was caused by improper disposal of wood ash.
Robert Grenier, 64, said Monday that the fire was not caused by wood ash left in a plastic bucket in the garage, as authorities reported. He said that the bucket was not left in the building, and that it contained creosote he had taken from a horizontal stove pipe that was on the outside of the garage, not hot ash.
The creosote “was not hot, to my knowledge,” he said.
But Waterville Fire Chief David LaFountain said Monday that he was told by investigators that ashes were put in the plastic bucket about an hour and a half before the fire started, then placed against the wall of the garage. Photographs taken at the scene support that theory, said LaFountain.
“The investigators communicated to me that the pictures taken … show definitively that’s how and where the fire started,” LaFountain said.
The fire at Grenier’s Classic Flooring spewed thick black smoke that could be seen for miles and attracted onlookers, whose cars clogged nearby streets. The blaze destroyed a large barn and buildings that contained equipment and flooring materials. Grenier’s attached house was heavily damaged, and fire officials deemed it uninhabitable.
Grenier, his wrists bandaged because of burns he suffered while trying to extinguish the fire, and his ear and cheek scorched, met with insurance officials Monday at his property.
Grenier said he and his family were cooking a turkey in a deep fryer in the driveway, about 12 feet from the shed, before the fire started. Four other people, including his son, were in the house, where dinner was being prepared.
“I had a wood stove going in the garage, not too far from where the fire started,” he said.
He said the fire could have been caused by wind blowing flames from the fryer to the buildings, or the cause could have been electrical. A light attached to one of the buildings, with colored lights attached to it, was broken and hanging down, and the light may have been on day and night and overheated, he said.
When he first saw the fire, it was in the ceiling above where the lights were, and flames were moving down the shed’s roof and walls, he said.
“It could have been the turkey cooker,” Grenier said. “It’s still freaking me out. I don’t understand how it started.”
Department of Environmental Protection officials were initially concerned about hazardous debris at the fire, but visited the site and determined there was no visible evidence of dangerous materials, said Peter Blanchard, director of the Division of Response Services for the DEP.
Grenier is staying at a Waterville hotel until he can find a place to live that he hopes could also double as space from which to run his business.
The property is insured, but he said he does not yet know whether he will rebuild on the Drummond Avenue site. On Monday, the property was covered with more than a foot of snow from Sunday night’s storm.
Grenier said he lived alone in the 100-year-old house, which he also used as an office. Attached to the house were a few rooms, including one he called the Malibu room because it housed a 1964 Chevy Malibu SS that he was restoring. The car was destroyed in the fire.
Also attached were the garage and a large barn that contained two forklifts as well as various kinds of tile and carpet, among other materials.
He also lost a cockatiel named Sydney that he bought last Christmas for his daughter.
“I lost everything but the house,” he said.
Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at: