Oxygen possible factor in double fatal fire

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Authorities believe oxygen tanks inside a home in Cheektowaga may have helped spark a double fatal fire early Tuesday morning.

The home on Furlong Road was so badly damaged, it’s almost too dangerous for investigators to go inside. But they’re looking at oxygen as a possible aggravating factor.

Cleveland Hill Fire Chief Joe Lewis said, “There was a very heavy fire load when we showed up. The building is structurally destroyed. The first floor is burnt through, the second floor is sagging, and actually some floor joists are missing from the fire.”

PHOTO GALLERY | Pictures taken at the scene capture the intensity of the deadly blaze

It’s the second case in three weeks where oxygen tanks may have or did fuel a fatal fire.

Earlier this month, 76-year-old Nelsonia Voight died in a fire that consumed her mobile home in Clarence. Erie County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Kuhlmey says during that fire, “several small oxygen cylinders that did void.”

Erie County Deputy Fire Coordinator Tiger Schmittendorf said, “If you’ve ever tried to, say, start a charcoal fire in your grill, or maybe a campfire and the fire’s not really going, it’s smoldering a little bit, really there’s no open flame, what do most folks do? They blow on the fire.”

Schmittendorf says oxygen tanks have the same effect, but on a much larger and more dangerous scale. Unlike the air we breathe and the kind firefighters carry – which is 21 percent oxygen – these tanks contain 100 percent oxygen.

“It’s not just combustible, it’s actually flammable,” he explained. “Literally, this can pretty much become a projectile, and blow off similar to a rocket. It’s a very real concern.”

Schmittendorf says people who use oxygen should always keep it at least six feet away from any open flame or electric heat source, never smoke, and equip their homes with working smoke detectors. Adult caregivers should have and know how to use fire extinguishers.

He said, “But really, they have to be concerned first and foremost for their safety and the safety of the person they’re taking care of, and we want them to simply get out and stay out.”

The Cleveland Hill Fire Chief says the two victims in Tuesday morning’s fire were burned beyond recognition. Autopsies will be done to identify them.

Neighbors said an unmarried couple in their 60s lived in the home.

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