Malakiah Ayres feared the gas line could explode at any moment.

But the family's kitten was inside his house on 71st Street near Paschall Avenue, next door to where the gas pipeline had ruptured and caught fire.

And Ayres knew she would be scared.

"So I ran in there," said Ayres, 17, a 10-grader at John Bartram High School in Southwest Philadelphia, after his rescue yesterday of Missy, a 7-month-old black kitten with green eyes and a white patch on her chest.

He knew just where to look for her.

Under the bathtub.

"Any time anything scares her, she hides under there," he said.

"A firefighter tried to stop me, but I went past him and ran into the house.

"I was thinking [Missy] would be scared with all the firemen in there, not knowing who these people were," Ayres said.

The fire broke out outdoors when a line ruptured and was uneventfully extinguished. Philadelphia Gas Works officials could not be reached late yesterday to confirm a report the fire was caused by workmen digging.

Ayres said he is scheduled for late classes at Bartram and was on his way to school about 11:45 a.m. when he saw flames.

He feared that his grandmother might be inside the house. So, he ran in at first to rescue her. She'd already left, he said, so he ran back outside. But then he remembered the kitten.

"I was kind of afraid but I just wanted to get my cat," Ayres said.

Missy survived all the excitement just fine. *