WATERVILLE — The recent, improper installation of a wood stove caused a fire Thursday at 37 Carey Lane that destroyed the structure the stove was in and heavily damaged the adjacent house, according to fire officials.

A couple, ages 32 and 25, and their children, ages 7 and 2, lived in the house, and the father of one of the couple lived in an upstairs apartment, according to fire Battalion Chief John Gromek.

He said two other children lived in the house part-time, but were not there when the fire broke out. An aunt of one of the tenants owns the home, and the family had a contract to rent it, he said. The family members, whose names he did not know, were helped Thursday by the Red Cross, he said.

The barn or garage was a workshop used for the family construction business and all the construction tools inside were destroyed by the fire, according to Gromek. Asked if the house was destroyed, Gromek said he would say so, but that determination is up to the insurance company. The exteriors of two other nearby houses were damaged as well.

Houses are very close together on Carey Lane, and there is little frontage to the street itself. When firefighters arrived after the fire was reported at 12:20 a.m. Thursday, the 32-year-old tenant on the first floor was throwing Christmas presents out of the house and into the street, which made it difficult for firefighters to access the area, Gromek said.

“When the on-duty crew got there, the downstairs tenant was trying his best to get as many Christmas gifts as he could …” he said. “He was throwing stuff out the front door into the road.”

Firefighters from several other towns helped fight the fire. Gromek said there was heavy fire damage to the back half of the house and smoke damage throughout the home.

“The biggest thing is getting the message out on the proper installation (of wood stoves) and following manufacturer instructions — that’s the big message, especially this time of year,” Gromek said.

He cautioned that many people are still without power from the weekend storm and are using older wood stoves, fireplaces or alternative heating systems. It is important that systems that have not been used in a long time be checked before use to make sure they are safe.

At Carey Lane on Thursday, former City Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, who lives next door, said the fire department got to the scene very quickly. Most of the homes on the street were built around the same time, and her own house was built in 1850 by her great-great-grandfather, she said.

Rancourt-Thomas’ house is just a few feet from the one that burned, yet there appeared to be no damage to her house.

“If the fire department hadn’t gotten here as quick as possible, my house would have gone up,” she said. “We’re very grateful.”

Carey Lane is a short, one-way street off Water Street that loops in a sort of half-circle back to Water Street.

The Waterville Fire Department Facebook page says firefighters from Waterville, Winslow, Skowhegan, Fairfield, Oakland, Vassalboro, Clinton and Albion worked at the scene and Delta Ambulance and the Waterville Public Works Department also assisted.

No one was injured, but a family dog was found deceased at the scene and two cats are still unaccounted for, according to the post.

“We urge the public to ensure all solid fuel-burning appliances be installed according to the manufacturers’ recommendations,” the post says. “Proper clearance of hot surfaces to combustible materials is critical to the safety of the device. As we approach the winter months it is also prudent to have chimneys inspected and cleaned by a reputable professional.”

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