Spokane Valley Fire Department fire investigators say a 77-year-old woman is lucky to be alive after an afternoon fire destroyed her unit in the Pines Village Apartments, 512 N. Pines Road, on Jan. 26.
A neighbor heard her screams and pulled her out of the apartment.
Fire investigators have determined the cause of the fire was cigarette smoking and oxygen use, a potentially deadly combination, said Melanie Rose, department spokeswoman.
The woman wears her O2 cannula at all times and is a heavy smoker. Investigators believe the O2 tubing was lying over an ashtray, melted through the plastic tubing and the oxygen coming out of the tubing became a small blowtorch, igniting the fire.
Firefighters arrived on the scene to find smoke coming from the window of one apartment in the one-story building. They confirmed the resident of the burning apartment was out and quickly contacted the neighboring units for search and evacuation.
Crews also took an offensive approach to the fire, entering the apartment and quickly knocking down the flames, keeping the fire from spreading to neighboring apartments. One resident in an adjoining apartment was safely evacuated by firefighters.
Residents of the second adjoining apartment were not home at the time of the fire. The apartment was heavily damaged by smoke and fire. Damage is estimated between $15,000 and $25,000.
Over the past two years, there have been three fires caused by the use of smoking and oxygen in the Spokane Valley Fire Department service area, Rose said. One fire was deadly.
Rose offered the following safety tips:
• Smoking while anyone is using oxygen in a room can be dangerous – fire can burn through six feet of oxygen tubing in about 60 seconds
• Fabrics like polyester and nightgowns can become saturated with O2 which increases the chance for a person’s clothing to catch on fire and burn faster than normal
• Working smoke alarms save lives. Replace smoke alarms after 10 years.
• Renters insurance is an important consideration for apartment dwellers.