Cardboard pizza boxes blamed in Maine fire that killed 4

Cardboard pizza boxes blamed in Maine fire that killed 4

ORRINGTON, Maine (AP) — A pre-dawn fire that killed a 30-year-old man and his three children and hospitalized the mother was caused by empty cardboard pizza boxes stored too close to a wood-burning stove, Maine fire officials said today.

The family likely used the boxes to help start the fire in the stove after they returned to their Orrington home from bowling late Friday night, fire investigators said. A container of lighter fluid found nearby probably accelerated the spread of the fire once the boxes stored outside the stove ignited and family members had gone to bed.

Fire Marshal Joe Thomas called the fire a tragedy. It was the deadliest fire in Maine in 20 years.

“It was purely accidental,” Thomas said.

Neighbors reported the fire about 2:30 a.m. Saturday after hearing Christine Johnson, 31, screaming from atop a roof above a breezeway between the house and a garage.

Johnson remained hospitalized for smoke inhalation on Monday. The fire killed her husband, Benjamin Johnson III, along with their children: two boys, 9-year-old Ben and 4-year-old Ryan, and one girl, 8-year-old Leslie.

The children were found in a second-story bedroom, and their father was found at the head of the stairs. They all died from smoke inhalation, according to the medical examiner’s office.

The home’s furnace was not working, so the residence was heated with the wood stove and a propane heater placed inside a fireplace, officials said.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.