BAR HARBOR, Maine — The likely cause of a house fire that claimed the life of a local veterinarian Wednesday is a heat lamp that was being used to keep a box of baby chickens warm inside her house, according to a state official.

Melissa Watership, 46, had just obtained the chicks that morning and had put them in a sawdust-filled box in the bedroom of her downtown Bar Harbor home, where the fire started, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland indicated in a prepared statement released Friday afternoon.

“The fire was started by either the lamp tipping over, or being placed too close to the box,” McCausland indicated in the release. “The fire has been ruled accidental.”

Watership was either distracted or taking a nap when the fire ignited, he said. Her body was found in the kitchen of her home at 9 Center St. by firefighters who took her to Mount Desert Island Hospital, one block away, where she later was declared deceased.

The bedroom had fire damage and there was heavy smoke damage throughout the rest of the one-story house, according to McCausland.

She had worked for four years as a veterinarian at Acadia Veterinary Hospital, also in downtown Bar Harbor, but had not been working there for the past several months.

Watership was married and had two children. Her husband and children were away when the fire occurred. Watership’s dog, Jake, perished in the fire, but her cat Zippy was saved after he was discovered when a firefighter stepped on him in the basement of the smoke-filled house, according to staff at the animal clinic.

Zippy is recovering at the clinic, where Watership’s former colleagues are caring for him.

Many Mount Desert Island residents whose pets had been cared for by Watership expressed their grief and sympathy on Facebook, saying that Watership had offered them ample expertise and emotional support when their animals had become ill or injured.

Mark Belserene, spokesman for the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said Friday in an email that Chief Medical Examiner Mark Flomenbaum completed an autopsy of Watership on Thursday. He said the case is pending further studies before an official cause of death is determined, which could take another 7 to 10 days, depending on when test results come back.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....