Fact Check

Mouse Fire

Did a mouse set a house on fire after the homeowner threw the rodent into a pile of burning leaves?

Published Jan. 10, 2006


Claim:   A mouse set a house on fire after the homeowner threw the rodent into a pile of burning leaves.

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Associated Press, 2006]

Mouse Thrown Into Fire Sets Home Ablaze

A mouse got its revenge against a homeowner who tried to dispose of it in a pile of burning leaves. The blazing creature ran back to the man's house and set it on fire.

Luciano Mares, 81, of Fort Sumner said he caught the mouse inside his house and wanted to get rid of it.

"I had some leaves burning outside, so I threw it in the fire, and the mouse was on fire and ran back at the house," Mares said from a motel room Saturday.

Village Fire Chief Juan Chavez said the burning mouse ran to just beneath a window, and the flames spread up from there and throughout the house.

No was hurt inside, but the home and everything in it was destroyed.

Unseasonably dry and windy conditions have charred more than 53,000 acres and destroyed
10 homes in southeastern New Mexico in recent weeks.

"I've seen numerous house fires," village Fire Department Capt. Jim Lyssy said, "but nothing as unique as this one."

Origins:   Reminiscent of the "Jeep at Half the Price" legend came the January 2006 news story of a homeowner who tried to dispose of a pesky mouse he had caught in his house by throwing it into a pile of burning leaves in his yard. According to the initial accounts, the rodent, with its fur ablaze, scampered out of the burning leaf pile and ran back towards the house, catching the exterior of the structure on fire and touching off a conflagration that destroyed the home and everything in it.

A few days later, however, the homeowner claimed the mouse was already dead when he threw it into the pile of burning leaves, and that the house fire was touched off by winds that blew embers from the burning leaf pile back towards the house:

A small-town rumor that sparked world-wide interest about a mouse burning down a house has been found to be untrue.

The mouse story, however, has been doused by Mares.

"It's really humorous more than anything that a mouse burned down the house," he told KOAT-TV in Albuquerque. The mouse was dead when it hit the burning leaves.

Mares said he trapped and killed the critter and tossed it on the fire.

The flames, he said, probably reached his house because they were driven by high winds.

Capt. Jim Lyssy of the Fort Sumner Fire Department said the rumor probably got started because there was "a little too much excitement" at the time of the fire.

Then, the next day, he changed his story again and once more claimed the original version was true:

Mares and his nephew stood by his original version, in which he claimed the mouse scampered into his house and set it afire.

"That dang mouse crawled in there," Mares, who talks quickly and in slightly broken English, said in a phone interview from a motel in Fort Sumner, where he is staying with his nephew. "I have an awful hate for those critters.''

In the interview, Mares recounted three times the series of events. A smelly little mouse got caught in one of the glue traps he'd set in and around his home. He was pleased — mice were a nuisance, they'd been bothering him for some time, leaving droppings everywhere. And they were hard to get rid of. This mouse, too, was resilient — trapped but still moving. The glue was sticky; he couldn't pull the mouse off.

Mares went outside and threw the whole deal — mouse and trap — on to the burning leaves. The mouse, now ablaze, scrambled to safety, then headed back for the house and disappeared inside a window. About 90 seconds later, the house was on fire.

How did the mouse run away, still trapped in the glue?

"The fire melted the glue and he got away," Mares said.

Perhaps the original version was true but Mr. Mares, after being heavily criticized for throwing a living creature into a fire, chose to alter his story and claim the mouse was dead (thus making his initial story impossible), then decided the attention brought by the first version outweighed the criticism and switched back again. Or perhaps the first version was an invented one, and after being ridiculed over it Mr. Mares opted to tell the truth, then reverted to his fictional story because he liked the attention. Or maybe he doesn't even really know exactly what happened (i.e., the mouse ran out of the burning leaf pile and the house caught on fire, but the two events may not have been directly connected) and is improvising as he goes along.

Either way, we look forward to the next installment of the saga.

Last updated:   10 January 2006

  Sources Sources:

    Evans, Mark.   "Did Mouse Really Burn Down House? N.M. Man Stands by Story."

    The Albuquerque Journal.   10 January 2006.

    Associated Press.   "Mouse Thrown Into Fire Sets Home Ablaze."

    8 January 2006.

    Internet Broadcasting Systems.   "Flaming Mouse Story Found to Be False."

    WSBTV.com   10 January 2006.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.