AUGUSTA — A fire Tuesday that damaged an already structurally deficient barn on Northern Avenue has forced five people who live in the attached apartment building to find new homes, at least temporarily.
Nobody was hurt in the two-alarm fire at 110 Northern Ave. in the city’s Sand Hill neighborhood, which was reported about 8:30 p.m. and drew help from fire departments in Gardiner, Winthrop and Togus, said Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette.
The barn, which was stuffed full of items, was reduced to such a precarious state that the two families living in the adjoining two-unit house had to evacuate, Audette said.
The families, which include two young children, stayed with friends and family Tuesday night. Olin C. Charette, who owns the building, said Wednesday that he was working with the city to find long-term temporary housing for his tenants. Charette said he plans to tear down the barn and make the apartments suitable for occupancy, but he was unsure how long that might take.
Charette bought the building in 2009 for $40,000, according to city records. He is the son of Olin J. Charette, who owns the Country Village Motels and Apartments on Riverside Drive that the city shuttered earlier this month because of a failed septic system. The move displaced 26 people, most of whom moved to other apartments in the city.
Augusta Code Enforcement Officer Robert Overton said the barn at the Northern Avenue apartment building will have to be removed, repaired or replaced before people are allowed to move back into the apartments.
“One way or another it has to be made safe,” Overton said. “We feel if the barn comes down, it’s going to impact the dwelling unit.”
Audette said Tuesday’s fire threatened a multi-unit building standing only four feet away, but ultimately did not damage it. Firefighters had the blaze under control within 45 minutes, Audette said, and the effort to put out the fire forced the closure of Northern Avenue for about an hour and a half.
An investigator from the state fire marshal’s office was at the site Wednesday trying to determine what caused the blaze. Sgt. Ken Grimes of that office said the fire started on the outside back corner of the barn. The cause is still undetermined.
“There are a couple different possibilities,” Grimes said. “We have a few more interviews to do to narrow it down a bit.”
There was little sign of a fire on the street-side portion of the barn Wednesday as tenants collected belongings to take to their temporary homes.
The fire reportedly caused minor smoke damage to the two apartments, but Terry Mills, who shares the first-floor apartment with her daughter, Amy Rawlings, and Rawlings’ 5-year-old son, said there was no sign of permanent damage to any of their belongings.
Mills and her family, along with two dogs, two cats, a corn snake and mice, stayed with friends in Wayne Tuesday night.
Sean Gilmore, who has lived in the upstairs apartment with his wife, Andrea Adams, since their son was born about a year and a half ago, said his family stayed with relatives in Augusta.
Gilmore said he called the fire department after investigating the source of a smoke smell.
“We were trying to put our kid to bed,” Adams said. “That didn’t work out.”
Gilmore said he looked out the window and saw flames coming from the barn. Gilmore ran outside and heard someone say there was a fire. The voice came from the alleyway separating the barn from the next door apartment building just a few feet away. Gilmore ran back upstairs and called for help and then went downstairs to alert the neighbors.
Rawlings was at work, leaving Mills, who is a newspaper carrier for the Kennebec Journal, home alone with her grandson when the fire broke out. The boy and his grandmother were sleeping when Gilmore banged on her door. Police arrived moments later to order everybody out.
“I’m glad (Gilmore) saw it,” she said.
Mills and her family, who have lived in the Northern Avenue apartment for about two years, were making plans to move to another Olin C. Charette property on Mount Vernon Avenue as soon as it can be made inhabitable.
“I don’t have a problem with him,” she said. “He’s a very nice person.”
According to city records, the house was built in 1886. The barn, which is the former home of Theodore’s Seamless Gutters, leans heavily toward the main apartment building and there is a V in the eave line of the roof.
Overton said he spoke to Charette about the building last week, but there was no official order to fix the barn.
“I indicated we had serious concerns about this building,” Overton said. “He indicated he would be in to pull a demolition permit this week.”
Overton said the apartments will be condemned until the barn can be removed or made safe.
“The fire certainly damaged this building to where we feel it is in imminent danger of collapsing,” Overton said.
The apartment building will have to be inspected before tenants are allowed to return. Overton knew of no code violations in the apartments themselves, but noted they had not been inspected.
Gilmore said his family, like the Mills family, had hoped to soon move out of the apartment.
Adams is unsure if the apartment will ever be deemed safe.
“If you go up you can feel the whole building swaying toward the barn,” she said. “In my opinion the whole building should be torn down.”
Staff writer Keith Edwards contributed to this report.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642