PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A 3-year-old boy set a fire in the living room of his Maine mobile home this week, a blaze that would engulf the structure and kill himself, his mother and his twin siblings, police said Friday.
The fire early Thursday killed 28-year-old Norma Skidgel and her children, 2-year-old twins Mason and Madison Delisle and 3-year-old Trenton Delisle, who lived in the mobile home in Caribou, 300 miles north of Portland. The state fire marshal's office said in a statement that an investigation has determined Trenton Delisle lit the blaze when he "set fire to items in the living room" of the home.
State police spokesman Steve McCausland said the fire was likely started with a cigarette lighter. He said the nature of the items that the boy site afire was unclear.
Investigators said the mobile home had a pair of major safety hazards — there were no functional smoke detectors and a rear door was blocked by a large piece of polystyrene foam that was likely used for insulation.
Skidgel's sister, Amy Bouchard, also lived at the home with her two children and extinguished a fire Trenton set — a Bible in the kitchen stove — earlier Thursday morning, police said. Bouchard and her children were not home when it caught fire.
The four deaths highlight the need to educate children about fire safety at a young age, McCausland said.
"This is a sad tragedy," he said. "Resources were available to assist him but were never utilized."
A state study of Maine fires from 2001 to 2011 found that juveniles set 2,531 fires resulting in 14 deaths, 115 injuries and damages of more than $40 million, said State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas. Last year's number of juvenile fires was 276, he said.
Thomas said Aroostook County, where Caribou is located, provides resources to prevent juvenile-started fires through fire and police departments as well as mental health agencies. Families can also consult with the State Fire Marshal's Office in Augusta, he said.
"Juvenile firestarters are a huge problem in Maine and there are resources available throughout the state to counsel, educate and treat children fascinated by fire," Thomas said.
Bouchard left the mobile home Thursday morning to put one of her children on a bus at a nearby stop and found the home ablaze when she returned, police said. She suffered smoke inhalation while trying to get back into the home and was treated at a hospital, police said.
An autopsy Friday determined Skidgel and the twins died of smoke inhalation, police said. Trenton's autopsy was still underway, police said. The four deaths brought the total number of fire deaths in Maine to 25 for the year, the most since 1993.