CLINTON — A bolt of lightning may have started a fast-moving fire that destroyed a house on Battle Ridge Road early Tuesday morning, according to a state investigator.

No one was inside the house at 663 Battle Ridge Road when the fire broke out and no injuries were reported, according to firefighters at the scene Tuesday morning.

If lightning started it, the blaze would be among at least five statewide blamed on thunderstorms Monday night and early Tuesday morning. Those occurred at a house in the Kennebec County town of Mount Vernon; a sawmill in the Penobscot County town of Garland; a house fire in the Waldo County town of Searsmont; and at a home in the Hancock County town of Orland. No injuries were reported at those fires.

Stu Jacobs, an investigator with the state Fire Marshal’s Office who visited the scene, said the cause of the fire is officially considered undetermined. However, “I am looking at the possibility of a lightning strike,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve contacted the Maine Forest Service and they’re pulling up lightning strike data,” Jacobs said. “I’m looking to see whether there was violent weather in the area. That was the time when there was activity (elsewhere in the state), at the time the fire was discovered. But the cause is officially undetermined until we get that strike data.”

The owners of the house are Ernest and Priscilla Morse, but neither was living there.

Their neighbor across the street, Jade Fleming, said she called 911 at 2:47 a.m. She had been awoken by her son, who had an earache, when she looked outside and noticed red flickering at the house.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!'” Morse said. “The entire house was engulfed with flames by the time the 911 call was over. It was scary; it was intense.”

Clinton Fire Chief Gary Petley said the house was “completely engulfed in flames” when his firefighters arrived at the remote location near the Canaan town line. In addition, a power line that had been connected to the house had been snapped off and was lying across the road, arching and hissing, Petley said. They had to wait for Central Maine Power workers to arrive and remove the wire.

That prevented firefighters from getting right in front of the house, but fortunately several other agencies responded, including Canaan, which came from the opposite side of the downed wire, Petley said. Crews also responded from Skowhegan, Fairfield, Winslow and Waterville, with about 25 firefighters on scene.

“It was not for about an hour that we could verify the owner was not there, so we felt better about that,” Petley said. “It was a defensive attack only; there was no interior attack at all.”

After speaking with a family member who also lives on the road, firefighters learned that Morse had recently moved out of the house and has been living in apartment in Augusta so he could be closer to his wife, who is in a nursing home, Petley said. Ernest Morse is 79 — he’ll turn 80 next week, Petley said — and the house was built in 1927.

“The family stated that the condition had deteriorated in the house over time,” Petley said. He said the house was insured, according to family.

Ernest Morse has been known in Clinton as owning a scooter and riding it into town to get his mail at his post office box, Petley said.

As to whether a lightning strike could have caused the fire, Petley thinks that’s the logical explanation. He and others in town experienced brief power outages around midnight, and “it probably didn’t take too much of a jolt to mess up that wiring.”

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

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