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

A press release from the Waterville Fire Department Wednesday night said the fire was caused by careless disposal of wood ash.

The state fire marshal’s office investigated the cause of the fire Wednesday, 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 suustained significant damage and is no longer habitable.

Grenier suffered second-degree burns on his right hand and was treated at the scene. The building and everything in it, including carpeting, tiling, a van, a trailer, a recreational vehicle and a forklift, were a total loss. There were four other people in the house at the time of the fire, preparing Christmas dinner, according to the fire department, but they all made it out unscathed.

Wood ash from a wood stove that was put in a plastic bucket, which was then put in a shed attached to the building, caused the fire, according to a press release from the Waterville Fire Department Wednesday night.

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. LafFountain 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. Firefighters also occasionally slipped and fell while battling the flames.

LaFountain said there were other problems associated with the weather, including a fire hydrant that was coated with ice and had to be chipped free to use. The water inside another hydrant was frozen solid.

The fire also melted a power line, and so responders had to request the presence of a crew from Central Maine Power, which has been directing every possible resource to restoring power to customers in the region.

Emergency departments responded from Waterville, Winslow and Fairfield.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a public works crew was bringing in an excavator to clear the debris, because the garage and a significant part of the house had collapsed.

Staff photographer Michael Seamans contributed to this report.Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287 [email protected] Twitter: @hh_matt

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