A fire damaged a reconverted stable building on the property of the New England Wireless and Steam Museum on Frenchtown Road at Tillinghast Tuesday afternoon.
Firefighters were called to 697 Tillinghast Road at 4:50 p.m. Tuesday after property owners Bob and Nancy Merriam noticed what first looked like steam coming from the building.
Bob Merriam kept an office in the upstairs of the building, which dates back to the 1800s, and heated it with a space heater. His wife Nancy said he'd been there earlier in the day and had left the heater on, planning to return.
Stepping outside the house, which stands nearby, Bob quickly realized it was a fire and called the fire department.
As it happened, all the EGFD vehicles were out on calls at the time. "The engine and rescue at Frenchtown were headed downtown on an EMS call because Station 1 was out on a call," said Fire Chief Peter Henrikson. The Station 2 engine turned around. Henrikson said he called for mutual aid from North Kingstown as a precaution.
Once they were on the scene, the fire was extinguished quickly, Henrikson said. While still awaiting confirmation by the Fire Marshal, the fire appears to have started at that space heater.
"The gentleman did state he did plug the heater in this morning right at the point of origin," Henrikson said.
The New England Wireless and Steam Museum opened in 1964 by the Merriams and has been operating ever since. The annual October Steam Up is their big event of the year, although the museum is open on Thursdays. The stable building that caught fire is not a museum building.