GARDINER — A sprawling Victorian home overlooking the Kennebec River was destroyed Wednesday by a fast-moving fire that took crews several hours to douse.

Nobody was hurt in the fire at 37 Riverview Drive, though a firefighter walking near the ridgepole on the roof narrowly escaped when the roofing beneath him gave way, causing a ball of flames to erupt around him. The firefighter was able to scramble quickly to safety and back onto a ladder with help from fellow firefighters. Gardiner Fire Chief Al Nelson said the man was not injured.

“It was scary,” Nelson said.

Nobody was home when the fire broke out around 3:15 p.m. Nelson was unsure how many people live in the home or whether it was insured. Nelson said the three-story home is a total loss.

Gardiner tax records indicate the home, built in 1890, is a two-unit home owned by Andrew and Christine Laverdiere. Nelson said only one family lives in the home. The Laverdieres’ FaceBook pages indicate they have a young daughter.

The family, comforted by a large group of people, watched as the flames destroyed their home. Andrew Laverdiere declined to comment.

Nelson was unsure whether the family would require the assistance of the American Red Cross.

Nelson also was unsure how or where the fire started, though he said it appeared to have originated near the back of the house. An investigator from the Office of the State Fire Marshal was at the home Tuesday night to try to determine how the fire started.

The fire was spotted first by a neighbor who said it already was creating heavy smoke and breaking windows. The first firefighters arrived in minutes, but it was already too late to save the house.

“It had a big start,” Nelson said. “When we got there, there was heavy smoke coming out of every floor.”

The homeowners quickly confirmed nobody was inside.

“They told us there were some pets here, but we weren’t able to get in and find them,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the home was built using balloon-frame construction. A popular method of building in the early 1900s, the construction includes long framing timbers that span from the basement to the roof. Without the barriers created by framing, flames spread easily from floor to floor inside the walls.

“Once it gets into the walls, at that point, you’re just chasing,” Nelson said.

Firefighters from Augusta, Farmingdale, Pittston, Togus and West Gardiner helped Gardiner crews fight the fire. It took nearly three hours to get the flames under control, but Nelson expected crews to spend considerably longer rooting out all the hot spots.

According to tax records, the interior of the building is more than 7,200 square feet, including more than 3,100 square feet of living space.

“It’s a big building,” Nelson said.

Firefighters were able to save a large garage that is just a couple of feet from the section of the house where the worst of the fire occurred.

Riverview Drive was closed for several hours as crews fought the fire.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

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Twitter: @CraigCrosby4