NEW PORT RICHEY — It was his day off from kindergarten.
Six-year-old Jacob Peacock had been playing with his friends for about an hour Monday morning. They were doing kid stuff: riding bikes, building a blanket fort under the foosball table on the porch.
Then, on the sidewalk out front, Jacob found an old lighter.
The little boy with a straw-colored buzz cut snatched the lighter from the concrete and brought it to the porch of his home at 6207 Ohio Ave. to see whether it worked. He tried it on a cardboard box.
Katharine Wyatt, 27, Jacob's mother, was in the kitchen readying a mop bucket to clean the house when he burst through the door.
"Mom!" he shouted. "There's a fire out here! I need some water!"
But by the time Wyatt got outside, the porch was a room of flames. She corralled Jacob and her other children to a neighbor's front lawn. No one was hurt. The family sat in lawn chairs by the road in the shade of a tree while firefighters put out the blaze.
Jacob's father, Philip Peacock, was called from his community services job. Without a car, he rode home on his Mongoose mountain bike.
A fourth of the rental house — the porch, the garage and his daughters' room — was scorched. Firefighters had to tear out the ceiling in the kitchen to keep the fire from spreading. Afterward, the kitchen table sat under 6 inches of damp insulation. Wet soot streaked down the walls in the rental house. Plastic blinds sagged from the heat. With all the water, smoke and fire damage, the house was uninhabitable.
There was one sign of hope: A stuffed bunny that belongs to Peacock's daughter Autum, 11, was plucked from the wreckage. The bunny, named "Rabbit," was wet from a fire hose but otherwise okay. Autum cradled sopping wet Rabbit in her arms while she sat in the neighbor's yard.
Peacock stood in front of the house Monday afternoon, Red Cross papers in his hand, and watched as firefighters doused the home. The water, blasting out of the hose, slugged the eaves of the house, peeling back more siding. A muddy stream flowed down the lawn and pooled at the sidewalk at Peacock's feet. He looked on in disbelief.
The Red Cross has set up the family, including son Christian, 5, and daughter Rose, 3, with a room at the Ramada Inn for two nights. After that, he doesn't know.
One thing is for sure, at least for Jacob: "He's definitely going to be grounded," Peacock said.
"All jokes aside, though, he'll be lucky to have a house to be grounded in."
Jacob rode his white-tired bike into the yard where his mother, Peacock's fiancee, stood. His feet were caked with mud. A little black smudge was on the end of his nose. He wanted his shoes.
But his mother jabbed a finger toward the neighbor's lawn, where his siblings sat. He hung his head and slunk over to them.
Peacock handed his tie to his fiancee. He picked up his Mongoose mountain bike — a handlebar in one hand, a can of Pepsi in the other — and said he was going to check in at the motel.
Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.