Tools of a lifelong craft destroyed by all-consuming fire

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By Katina Caraganis

MediaNews

TOWNSEND — For nearly 57 years, Jim Craven has been working with his hands, building custom cabinets and custom homes for towns throughout the area as part of his Homes by Craven business.

On Monday morning he saw his business and nearly 60 years of dedication and love go up in flames as the barn on West Meadow Road that housed his cabinet business and all of his tools was reduced to rubble by a fast-moving fire.

Craven, a longtime businessman in town, said he and one of his employees were working in the barn when the fire broke out.

“We only had about three minutes to get out of the building. It was just a quick, fast-moving fire. It’s a wood frame, so there was no chance to save it,” Craven said, standing outside the rubble as members of his family tried to salvage what they could from the rubble.

He estimated the loss at nearly $1 million.

The 5,000-square-foot building housed all of the tools he needed for his business, he said. Many had been his father’s and cannot be replaced. Also lost were about 4,000 feet of lumber and cabinet stock, he said.

He also lost patterns and blueprints of various projects, his daughter Kym said.

“This is a loss of livelihood,” she said. “These aren’t just tools you can go out and buy again at Home Depot. He lost all his intellectual capital, his drawings, molds and machinery to turn out millwork.”

In addition to building new homes and cabinets, Craven has also restored many homes in the area, including some in Pepperell, Townsend, Dunstable, and Chelmsford.

Craven said that an oil-burning furnace and a wood stove were both running in the barn at the time of the fire, but wasn’t sure if that caused the fire.

“It’s still under investigation but at this time it doesn’t look suspicious. It took us about 2 1/2 hours to bring it under control,” said Townsend Fire Chief Donald Klein.

“Right now, according to the fire marshal, we think it might have started with the oil-burning furnace, but the damage was so great, we can’t officially call it that.”

There were also propane tanks in the building, but firefighters pulled them out immediately to avoid any chance for an explosion.

Two Townsend firefighters, Lt. Brett King and Firefighter Eric Modina, were sent to Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer with minor injuries, according to Klein. Modina suffered mild smoke inhalation while King’s back was hurt after a portion of the roof came down on him.

Both were treated and released, officials said.

“This property is his livelihood. There were so many memories in that building,” said Kym Craven. “You can go to Town Hall and see the amount of building permits he had out. He had a great impact on this town.”

Jim Craven said he’s not sure if he’s going to rebuild, but said that if he had to estimate the damage, it would cost him nearly $1 million to rebuild and replace everything.

“It’s nasty. This was a lifetime of efforts,” he said.

Crews from Ashburnham, Ashby, Pepperell, Lunenburg, Townsend, Mason, N.H. and Brookline, N.H., assisted at the scene.