Gene Monroe’s welding tools kept on giving until early Tuesday morning.

When friends’ tractors broke, the retired steel worker would make replacement parts in his garage on Hunts Meadow Road in Whitefield and sell them for about $20. When he came by old propane tanks, he’d make them into ornamental pigs and give them away to raffles.

“I don’t make money on what I was doing,” Monroe said. “It was just a hobby, something to keep me busy, so I don’t end up being a couch potato.”

But early Tuesday morning, a fire destroyed those tools and the garage that housed them.

By the time neighbors spotted the flames on the Whitefield property around 3:19 a.m., the fire already had torn through the garage and its contents: the welding equipment, several all-terrain vehicles, and a leaf blower purchased at discount last spring.

Firefighters prevented the fire at 222 Hunts Meadow Road from spreading to the home located 20 feet away, where Monroe, 61, lives with his fiancée, Mae Mayo. The heat caused some of the plastic on their home and cars to melt.

But the damage to the garage, which Monroe built 10 years ago after retiring because of a disability, was total.

“The building was starting to collapse when the first firefighters got there,” said Tom Feeney, deputy chief of the Whitefield Fire Department. “By the time the fire was discovered, it already had possession of most of the building.”

The fire’s cause did not seem suspicious, and no one was injured during it, Feeney said. Besides the Whitefield Fire Department, about five other fire and rescue services went to the scene.

A wood stove might have started the fire, according to Monroe.

“I do projects, and I was working in there yesterday, and I had a wood stove,” he said. “The wood stove was to keep warm. I think what happened is, the stove pipe that goes through the garage, I think it got too hot. The pipe got too hot, which got the wall hot.”

Monroe built the garage a decade ago, he said, after “everything went to hell” in his life. His wife of 25 years died. He went bankrupt and lost his job, his house and his insurance.

Then he met his now-fiancée, moved into her house on Hunts Meadow Road and built the 24-by-40-foot work space with the money he received as a result of his disability.

But he didn’t insure the building or its contents, and he has been told that they won’t be covered by Mayo’s homeowners insurance.

“Things were rough almost 11 years ago,” he said. “Then I met Mae here, and I showed up with nothing, and I had a garage full of (stuff) in the last 10 years, and now I got nothing again.”

Since the fire early Tuesday, some acquaintances have suggested that he rebuild the garage, but later in the day he said doesn’t think he will. When he built it, he shattered his heel by falling off a ladder.

“I got a bunch of screws and plates in there,” he said. “I’m not about to start climbing ladders and building. Nope, nope, I don’t think so.”

Monroe was reminded recently of the sundry ways that his welding tools gave back, both to himself and others.

When his road lost electricity during last month’s storm, he powered his own home with his 11,000-watt welding generator. Then he ran extension cords out to his neighbors’ house, sending enough electricity to power their freezer, refrigerator, television and a light bulb.

Now there’s one thing Monroe does say he will replace: his generator.

He saw his neighbor after the fire Tuesday.

“I told him, ‘You better buy yourself a generator, ’cause I ain’t got one,'” he said.

Staff photographer Joe Phelan contributed to this report.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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