WATERVILLE — The owner of a Drummond Avenue flooring business whose storage barn and attached buildings were destroyed by fire Christmas Day disputes fire officials’ theory that the blaze was caused by improper disposal of wood ash.

Robert Grenier, 64, said Monday that the fire was not caused by wood ash left in a plastic bucket in the garage, as authorities reported. He said the bucket was not left inside the building and that it contained creosote he had taken from a horizontal stove pipe that was on the outside of the garage, not hot ash.

The creosote “was not hot, to my knowledge,” he said.

But Waterville Fire Chief David LaFountain said Monday he was told by investigators that ashes had been put in the plastic bucket about an hour and a half before the fire started and placed against the wall of the garage. Photographs taken at the scene support that theory, said LaFountain.

“The investigators communicated to me that the pictures taken … show definitively that’s how and where the fire started,” LaFountain said.

State fire investigator Kenneth MacMaster nor Waterville fire Captain John Gromek, who also investigated the fire, were both off duty and could not be reached Monday for comment. LaFountain referred questions to them.

The fire at Grenier’s Classic Flooring at 160 Drummond Ave. spewed thick black smoke that could be seen for miles and attracted onlookers, whose cars clogged nearby streets.

The blaze destroyed a large barn and buildings that contained equipment and flooring materials. Grenier’s attached house was heavily damaged and fire officials deemed it uninhabitable.

Grenier, his wrists bandaged from burns he suffered while trying to extinguish the fire and his ear and cheek scorched, met with insurance officials Monday at his property.

Grenier said he and his family were cooking a turkey in a deep fryer in the driveway, about 12 feet away from the shed, before the fire started. Four other people, including his son, were in the house, where dinner was being prepared.

“I had a wood stove going in the garage, not too far from where the fire started,” he said.

He said the fire could have been caused by wind blowing flames from the fryer to the buildings, or it could have been electrical. A motion light attached to one of the buildings, with colored lights attached to it, was broken and hanging down, and the light may have been on day and night and become overheated, he said. When he first saw the fire, it was in the ceiling above where the lights were, and flames were moving down the shed’s roof and walls, he said.

“It could have been the turkey cooker,” Grenier said. “It’s still freaking me out. I don’t understand how it started.”

Department of Environmental Protection officials were initially concerned about possible hazardous debris at the fire, but visited the site and determined there was no visible evidence of dangerous materials, according to Peter Blanchard, director of the Division of Response Services for the DEP.

“We looked over the safety data sheets of the products that were there,” said Blanchard, whose division is in the DEP’s Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management. “We didn’t have any specific concerns about the disposal of the debris.”

Grenier is staying at a Waterville hotel until he can find a place to live that he hopes could also double as space from which to run his business.

The property is insured, but he said he does not yet know whether he will rebuild on the Drummond Avenue site. On Monday, the property was covered with more than a foot of snow from Sunday night’s storm.

‘A beautiful place’

Grenier said he lived alone in the 100-year-old house, which he also used as an office. Attached to the house were a few rooms, including one he called the Malibu room because it housed a 1964 Chevy Malibu SS he was restoring that was destroyed in the fire. Also attached were the garage, a roofed area that covered a truck and four-wheeler and a large barn that contained two forklifts as well as various kinds of tile and carpet, among other materials.

He also lost a cockatiel named Sydney that he bought last Christmas for his daughter.

“I lost everything but the house,” he said. “That (house) has smoke damage and water damage.”

He called the property “a beautiful place to live outside of town.”

“I got 10 acres here out back and I made four-wheeler trails,” he said.

He said the flooring company is a third generation business going back 60 years to when his grandfather owned it, and then his father. Previously, it was on College Avenue, across from where Maine Smoke Shop is now.

Grenier said he ran the business for five years on Elm Street and he moved it to Drummond Avenue in 2002.

“I decided not to do residential anymore so I started doing commercial work — colleges, schools, banks.” He said his customers have including the Waterville Public Library, Colby College dorms and hospital buildings.

Grenier said the number of people he employs changes depending on the jobs, but he currently has three workers.

While Grenier lost almost everything on the property, one thing did survive the blaze.

“We’ve had a raccoon living in the barn since I moved here and it was here long before that,” Grenier said. “You could hear him every once in a while. I was out here the other day and I saw his tracks. He’s probably wondering what happened to his house.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247[email protected]Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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