A structure fire at a business on Drummond Avenue Christmas afternoon injured the business owner and sent up large clouds of black smoke that could be seen for miles.

The State Fire Marshal’s office is investigating the cause of the fire, while the Department of Environmental Protection is testing debris at the site for environmental hazards, according to Waterville Fire Chief David LaFountain.

All of the supplies and equipment of Grenier’s Classic Flooring, owned by Robert Grenier, were in the structure, a large garage at 160 Drummond Ave. The attached garage was destroyed and the house sustained significant damage and is no longer habitable. Grenier said he suffered second-degree burns on his right hand. The building and everything in it, including carpeting, tiling, a van, a trailer, a recreational vehicle and a forklift, were a total loss.

As the walls of the garage collapsed, a deep fryer of the sort used to cook turkeys with a propane tank attached, could be seen on the ground inside. LaFountain said the tank either vented or blew up during the fire, and that there was at least one other propane tank in the garage.

Concerned about possible propane tank explosions, police tried to establish a wide perimeter to ensure the safety of onlookers who were drawn by the highly visible clouds of smoke.

The large number of onlookers combined with icy conditions and temperatures in the teens to create problems for emergency responders.

A flood of onlookers drove toward the scene on Crossway Street, a narrow unplowed road that runs from College Avenue, past Motor Supply, an auto parts store, and directly to the scene of the fire.

A line of cars on Crossway became a hazard when those at the front of the line couldn’t continue forward or turn around.

As some vehicles tried to back out of the road, a few got stuck in the snow, blocking an ambulance that was en route to the scene.

As people got out of their cars to help the stuck motorists or walk toward the fire, at least two slipped and fell on the hard, icy surface.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be contacted at 861-9287 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @hh_matt

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