Lethal Combination of Cooking and Medical Oxygen was Cause of Fatal Fire in Mifflin Township

Investigators have determined that a fatal fire, which occurred on Friday, Jan. 22 in the home of 75-year-old northeast Columbus resident Albert C. Hayes, was cooking related. 

The fire at 2434 Lindale Road was investigated by Mifflin Township, working in conjunction with Columbus Fire as part of the automatic response relationship between the two fire departments. According to Columbus Fire Investigator Mike DeFrancisco, “the use of medical oxygen contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, and medical conditions of the victim hampered his escape.” Investigators are still awaiting the Franklin County Coroner’s report for the exact cause of death.

“Fire needs three things to ignite: oxygen, a heat source and something that can burn,” said Mifflin Township Fire Marshall Captain Steve Welsh. “While oxygen itself is not flammable, the heat triggers a chemical reaction between the oxygen and fuel. Even a small amount of increased oxygen in the home makes this critical element more available for the chemical reaction, meaning that any fire that occurs will burn faster and hotter.”

In addition, increased oxygen lowers the temperature at which things will ignite. Oxygen saturates fabric covered furniture, bedding, clothing, hair and other flammables, making it easier for a fire to start and spread. And, in the winter, when there is little ventilation in a home, the saturation rate is higher.

“This fire is a critical reminder of the importance of the safe use of medical oxygen in the home, particularly with our elderly who are often less mobile and struggle with other medical challenges,” said Mifflin Township Fire Chief Fred Kauser.

For residents with medical oxygen in their home, Kauser provides the following recommendations:

  • Keep oxygen cylinders at least five feet from a heat source, open flames or electrical devices.
  • Candles, matches, wood stoves and even sparking toys and grinders, can be ignition sources and should not be used in the home.
  • There is no safe way to smoke in the home when oxygen is in use. A patient on oxygen should not smoke. Post No Smoking and No Open Flames signs in and outside the home to remind visitors not to smoke in or near the home.
  • Body oil, hand lotion and items containing oil and grease can easily ignite. Keep oil and grease away where oxygen is in use.
  • Never use aerosol sprays containing combustible materials near the oxygen.

For more fire prevention measures related to the use of oxygen in the home, as well as winter safety fire tips, visit http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/seasonal/put-a-freeze-on-winter-fires and http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/causes/medical-oxygen .