State fire marshal urges caution for home oxygen users

The state fire marshal is urging caution after two fires were caused on the same day in late December by people smoking near home oxygen supplies.

The fires occured Dec. 29 in Hinsdale and Orange, and together left five people injured and 17 displaced.

“Oxygen makes fires start at lower temperatures, so if you bring that cigarette close to something oxygen-enriched, it can catch fire more easily,” said fire marshal’s spokeswoman Jennifer Mieth.

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This poses a serious risk for people who need medical oxygen in their homes, she said.

“Oxygen soaks into bedding, clothes, hair, furniture and the air, creating an oxygen-rich environment,” State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said in a statement. “That makes things catch fire more easily [and] fire spread faster and burn hotter.”

Since 1997, there have been 97 fires, 34 deaths, and 81 injuries caused by smoking near home oxygen, according to records kept by the Department of Fire Services.

The state fire marshal is mounting an awareness campaign, called “Breathe Easy: Home Oxygen Fire Safety,” that aims to educate doctors, patients, and firefighters about the dangers of medical oxygen.

“As more and more people are bringing medical oxygen into the home, they need to understand the new fire risks they also bring into the home,” Coan said.

The campaign also recommends against using electrical devices that generate heat, such as blow dryers and curling irons, near home oxygen, or bringing home oxygen within 10 feet of an open flame.