WATERVILLE — A fast-moving fire tore through a five-unit apartment building Monday, leaving 12 people homeless and two cats unaccounted for.

By early evening, what was left of the three-story building was being razed.

“It’s being torn down,” Fire Chief David LaFountain said just before 5:30 p.m. “There’s an excavator over there, and it’s going to be ripping it down toward the street and putting it back into the basement.”

Fierce wind made the fire at 15 Paris St. dangerous and difficult to fight, LaFountain said.

“With the wind conditions, it blew the fire all over the place. It kept changing directions. Right now we’re in defensive mode, which means nobody goes inside,” he said shortly before noon.

About 40 firefighters from Waterville, Winslow and Fairfield battled the blaze, which was reported at 10:12 a.m.

Waterville fire officials, police detectives and investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s Office worked Monday to determine the cause. Nine adults and three children lived in the building.

As the fire raged, second-floor tenant Brad Hall, 32, stood shivering as he watched on Paris Street.

His three children were in school and he was in the shower when he smelled smoke, got out of the shower, dressed, scooped up his cat, Buster, and fled. He lost everything in the fire.

“It was either grab stuff or get dressed,” Hall said. “I got dressed and grabbed my cat. I have a lot of electronics.”

A Waterville school bus was called to the scene to serve as a warming station for the displaced tenants.

A couple who lived on the first floor escaped with two dogs, but their two cats had not been found.

Waterville police blocked off Paris Street and part of Water Street to keep people away from the scene. Delta Ambulance crews stood by, although no injuries were reported. Oakland and Albion fire departments covered the Waterville fire station.

LaFountain said the fire appeared to have started on the second floor in the rear, but he had no idea what caused it.

Firefighters attacked the fire from Paris Street and Halde Street in back of the building, which was vinyl-sided and had an aluminum roof.

The two upper floors of the building were destroyed. With more than 1,000 gallons of water a minute going into the building, LaFountain said, the first floor would have water damage, if not heat, fire and smoke damage.

WIND FANS FLAMES

Just after the fire was reported, Gary Shaw, 35, of Halde Street, stood on his steps, recording the fire as his three sons, Ethan Upton, 9, Colby Upton, 7, and Ayden Shaw, 2, watched.

“My wife, Amanda, called 911,” he said. “My son actually saw smoke and came in and told us. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as this. It was starting to smoke out of where the eaves meet the building. Every time the wind would blow, it looked like it would ignite the fire even more. It was feeding it. It just kept getting worse and worse. We just wanted to make sure everyone was out.”

Brenda Taylor, who lives next to the burning building, said she was with her son Monday morning as he was getting his car inspected, and she got a call from a neighbor saying the apartment building was on fire. She went home, got her two cats, Mr. Kitty and Baby Girl, and took them to a neighbor’s house.

“My parrot, Sidney, is still in the house,” Taylor said. “He should be fine, but he’s probably flipping out because he’s by the window, watching the firefighters. He’s got a window seat for the fire.”

The American Red Cross and Keystone Management were helping the displaced tenants, which include a boy, 9, a girl, 8, and a boy who is between 9 and 12, according to the fire department.