Oxygen fed fires

I recently saw a news report of a Henrico apartment fire that had fire showing from two windows. Later reports stated that a person smoking in an oxygen rich environment caused the fire. This story reminded me of a fire that we responded to in Chester a number of years back. We had responded to an oxygen leak a few days prior, and then ran the same house on fire a few nights later. When we turned onto the road, it looked like a blowtorch.

Oxygen is a non-combustible, compressed gas. The issue is that oxygen is an oxidizer, which causes a fire to burn with higher heat and greater intensity. The leak that we responded to was a liquid oxygen container, which yields more oxygen gas, once it leaves the container. Oxygen is not a gas that is heavier or lighter than air; therefore it permeates the entire space. In our case, the liquid oxygen leak had allowed oxygen to fill the larger spaces and the voids in the walls.

The three legs of the fire triangle are heat, fuel and oxygen. The amount of heat needed depends upon the fuel that is being burned. Fuel can be too lean or too rich. Too little oxygen causes the fire to go to a smoldering stage, however too much oxygen leads to a raging inferno. I can still remember firefighters rolling out of the front door when the fire flashed over on the first floor at the fire that I responded to.

I am mind-boggled by people who are on home oxygen, and continue to smoke, or who have people in the home who smoke. I will stay away from the cause of why many people are on oxygen today. Let me draw this picture: a person is on home oxygen via a nasal canula, where oxygen is fed into the nostrils; the person decides to smoke a cigarette at the same time; the heat and the oxygen are there, waiting for a fuel source, which could be them.

Smoking and oxygen use are forbidden. If you choose to combine the two, then I would suggest that you prepare for the fire that will inevitably occur. Your life insurance will probably be nullified, if the insurance company learns that smoking and oxygen use occurred in a residence where a fatality occurred.

There are many other heat sources that can cause a fire, other than smoking. I targeted this issue because of the apartment fire in Henrico, a few months back. Lifestyle changes for everyone in the home must occur when a person in the home gets placed on oxygen; unwillingness to do so opens the door for serious health and fire risks. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have to ask people not to smoke while we are  administering oxygen to a patient in the home. Keep in mind, room air contains 20.8% oxygen, and a fire can occur. An increased level of oxygen increases the possibility of fire. Misuse of heat sources around oxygen increases the probability of fire. Probable trumps possible every time.


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