OAKLAND — Seven people were left homeless Thursday morning as fire ripped through a two-family home on Water Street, challenging firefighters who fought the blaze in subzero temperatures.

Greg Hammerbeck noticed the fire while passing by, rushed to the house, pounded on doors, then went inside and made sure tenants and pets got out, despite the fact he wears a prosthetic leg and has a special boot on his good leg after recent foot surgery.

“I would want somebody to do the same thing for me,” Hammerbeck, of Oakland, said afterward.

Residents of the two-family home said they lost most of their belongings in the blaze that started shortly after 10 a.m.

Hammerbeck rousted Nathan Carson, 24, from the second floor apartment Carson shares with his parents, Jerry and Lisa Carson. Hammerbeck helped get the family’s 7-year-old black and brown shepherd and husky mix dog, Shadow, out of the apartment.

But their 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, according to Lisa Carson, 48.

“They went underneath the bed — they’re gone,” she said. “I’m going to miss them.”

Carson, who works for Maine-ly Elder Care, said she was heading to work at a home on Summer Street when she got a call that her home was on fire. She hurried back to find it engulfed in flames.

Shivering in the cold and watching smoke pour out of the building Thursday morning, she said the family has no renter’s insurance because they cannot afford it.

“We got nothing,” she said. “We lost everything. This is awful.”

Fire Chief David Coughlin said the fire, reported at 10:14 a.m., appeared to have started on the back side of the house, but officials had not determined a cause. He said investigator Ken MacMaster from the state fire marshal’s office was still on the scene in late afternoon, seeking a cause.

“It is a total loss,” Coughlin said. “For safety reasons, we had the building taken down.”

About 35 firefighters from Oakland, Belgrade, Rome, Sidney and Waterville battled the blaze in temperatures that hovered just below zero. At the scene around 11 a.m., Coughlin said that no injuries or problems with firefighting were reported.

“Other than that (the cold), we’re dealing with it pretty well,” he said, his eyeglasses frosted over.

The house, built in 1910 and converted to a two-family home, is owned by Scott and Jerrilene Mullen, who raised their children there but no longer live in it. Their son, Scott Mullen Jr., 22, Krysten Hardy, 21, and their children, Alex Hardy, 6, and Easton Mullen, 1, lived on the first floor. All were able to get out of the burning building with help from Hammerbeck.

“Neither (family) has insurance,” Jerrilene Mullen said while watching firefighters work. “They lost everything. Krysten didn’t even have socks on when she left the house.”

Jerrilene Mullen said the building is insured. The owners of Scott & Scottie’s Quality Construction, the Mullens stored all of their tools in a small barn next to the house. The barn and tools were destroyed by fire.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said. “I’m hoping my tools are covered by the insurance.”

Their daughter, Jessica Mullen, 27, who grew up in the house but now lives in Augusta, rushed to the scene when she learned of the fire.

“You see it happen all the time, but you don’t think it’s going to happen to you,” she said, tearing up.

Jessica Mullen said her brother, Scott, works for trailer manufacturer ALCOM in Winslow and Hardy recently started a job in nursing, and “they’re just getting by.”

A steel worker, Nathan Carson said he lost all of his work gear in the fire. His father, Jerry, was in Rome helping his mother-in-law when the fire broke out. He got a call and drove quickly to Oakland to be with his wife and son.

“I’m unemployed,” Jerry Carson said, adding that he had been laid off from a job installing Direct TV. “There’s no work out there.”

A shaken Carson said he was worried about what will happen to the family dog, Shadow, who has to take seizure medication every day if he can’t stay with the family, wherever they are placed.

“He will die if he has to go anywhere else without us,” he said.

The house is at the corner of Water and Maple streets and next door to Oakland Redemption, a business that caught fire two years ago.

Hammerbeck, a regular customer at the business, said he was a passenger in a neighbor’s vehicle on the way to the redemption center when he saw the fire, told the driver to call 911 and went as quickly as he could to the house to notify tenants.

Redemption Center employees Tara Wolman and Tim Hudon helped Nathan Carson move his Mercury sedan away from the house. The car wouldn’t start in the frigid weather, so they put it in neutral and pushed it into a driveway across the street.

Wolman, who called 911 to report the fire, noted that the Oakland Fire Department responded quickly.

“They had an awesome response time,” she said. “They were here within minutes.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17