Investigators believe kittens pulled down a light bulb being used to keep them warm.

PERU – Heat from a light bulb being used to keep kittens warm apparently ignited an early morning fire Friday, destroying a 19th century home.

Three children and their parents, Tom and Jessica Hines, escaped injury, but four of the six kittens perished, Fire Chief Bill Hussey said.

Firefighters found two kittens and two adult cats alive.

“The kittens were in a box on the porch and a lit light bulb was hanging over them to create heat,” Hussey said. “We’re surmising that one or more played with it and it came down into the box onto (bedding) blankets.”

Hussey said the fire began shortly before a 4:59 a.m. call for help.

“Tom was up and he saw a reflection of flames in a garage window next door” to the family’s home at 63 Main St., less than a mile from the fire station, Hussey said. “His family was very fortunate that he was up because the smoke detectors didn’t go off until he opened the door because the fire was on the outside.”

Hines got his wife and children, ages 7, 12 and 13, out of the two-story building as fire engulfed the back porch and climbed the home’s exterior walls.

“They had an excellent plan for escape. Once out, they went next door to a neighbor’s. But in that time of the morning, you hear a call that there’s three children inside, it’s rough on the nerves,” Hussey said.

When he arrived on scene, farther down the street from the fire station, flames were shooting 20 feet into the air on the back side of the house.

“It was a major fire at a large house with a big ell and it was trying to break through, going into the house. The fire burned downwards because there was so much heat. It got through a window and through a door into the kitchen as we were going in.

“Although it was extending into the building we knew we had enough time to set up to go inside. There were some experienced men on the scene who determined that,” he said.

Peru sent two engines, a tanker and 20 firefighters, while the automatic mutual aid response drew six fire trucks and 42 additional firefighters from Dixfield, Mexico, Rumford and Canton. Med-Care Ambulance provided rehabilitation.

Water was pumped from Mill Pond and shuttled from Dixfield.

State Police handled traffic control, initially shutting down the road, enabling Central Maine Power to disconnect electricity and firefighters to establish positions to use six hose lines from two trucks.

“We launched an aggressive interior attack with Dixfield firefighters in charge and had it under control in 10 to 15 minutes. It darkened down, but then it was stubborn and got into the cockloft and burned through the roof,” Hussey said.

Hussey said firefighters used foam to attack the flames, sawed a hole in the roof, and used a positive pressure fan to ventilate gases and smoke through the hole. That method confined the fire to one place.

“Mutual aid departments did a beautiful job. It was a coordinated effort with all the towns and our first major fire in two to three years. The house, which was built in the 1800s, was rendered unlivable, but the Hineses are fully insured and plan to rebuild,” Hussey said.

Firefighters cleared the scene by 8 a.m., returning to the station, where offers to help the Hines family, who are staying with friends and relatives, were already pouring in, Hussey added.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.