OAKLAND — Careless disposal of ashes from a wood stove caused a fire at 89 Water St. Thursday that destroyed a two-family house and barn and left seven people homeless, according to Fire Chief David Coughlin.

“It was accidental — disposing of ashes from a wood stove, obviously too close to combustible material,” Coughlin said Friday.

He advised that people place wood ashes in a metal container with a cover and make sure they are completely cooled before dumping them. Ashes should be placed at least 25 feet from anything combustible and water poured on them to make sure there is absolutely no spark, he said.

“Those ashes in a pile or can, (the ashes) can keep enough heat to ignite several days later, so even if somebody dumped them out, a wind can light the pile right up,” he said.

A passerby, Greg Hammerbeck, pounded on and opened doors in the two-story house to make sure tenants in two apartments got out Thursday morning. The fire at the house, built in 1910, was reported at 10:14 a.m.

Nathan Carson, 24, and his parents, Lisa and Jerry, 48 and 49 respectively, lived on the second floor with their 7-year-old shepherd husky mix dog, Shadow. Nathan Carson was the only one home at the time and Hammerbeck helped him and the dog get out of the apartment.

Scott Mullen Jr., 22 and Krysten Hardy, 21, and their children, Alex Hardy, 6, and Easton Mullen, 1, lived on the first floor and Hammerbeck also helped them get out.

Coughlin said Friday morning that the fire started after wood stove ashes from the first floor were taken to a shed-like roofed lean-to attached to the barn in an area where there were a lot of dry leaves.

Wednesday was a windy night, Couglin noted. The ashes ignited a fire that spread to the barn, which had stairs that created a natural wind tunnel for the fire to spread further, he said.

Flames tore through the house, sending thick smoke into the sky and over the street. Some 35 firefighters from Oakland, Waterville, Belgrade, Sidney and Rome battled the blaze.

Fire crews worked well into the evening and the state Fire Marshal’s Office joined them at the scene, trying to determine the cause.

The Carson’s two cats, Mindy, a 1-year-old gray tiger, and Min-Min, an 8-year-old white cat with double paws, are believed to have died in the fire.

The displaced tenants stayed with family members Thursday night and the Red Cross will be helping them, according to Coughlin.

He said a Facebook page, Kelly’s Note on Town Happenings, lists information about how those families may be helped.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17