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CHILDREN PLAYING WITH A LIGHTER SPARK FIRE

A $100,000 fire that left 15 apartment dwellers homeless Saturday was apparently caused by two youngsters playing with a cigarette lighter, investigators said.

The 2:26 p.m. blaze in a multiunit apartment complex at 6144 Ruhlman Road started in Apartment 6, where police said Kimberly Hardy was baby-sitting three children ages 7, 4 and 2.

Earlier that morning, the older boys set off the smoke alarm after causing a couple of scorch marks near their bunk bed with the lighter, Hardy told police. She said she warned the children and confiscated the lighter.

At 2:26, the alarm sounded again, and the boys ran downstairs, yelling that their bedroom was on fire, Hardy told investigators. She rounded up the younger girl, and they fled the building safely.

Niagara County Sheriff's Deputies Scott Milleville and Bruce Elliott said the second floor of the apartment was engulfed in flames upon their arrival. They forced their way into several units to make sure all the occupants had evacuated safely, which was the case.

Crews from the South Lockport Fire Company contained the flames, with help from Terry's Corners and Rapids companies.

South Lockport Chief Jim Clewell said volunteer firefighter Carl Sinclair suffered minor injuries when a ceiling collapsed atop him during the fire. He was treated in Lockport Memorial Hospital.

Niagara County Fire Coordinator James Volkosh requested that Juvenile Aid Bureau investigators interview the children, which is expected to happen today or Tuesday.

The American Red Cross was called in to assist the homeless, including several children.

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