Fire victims say oxygen machine may have sparked blaze that destroyed home

By: Kristi Ludlow Email
By: Kristi Ludlow Email
Oxygen tank

A couple is saying that the fire that destroyed their home could have started from an oxygen tank. (WRDW-TV / Oct. 19, 2011)

News 12 First at Five / Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A morning fire has left an elderly couple homeless after they lost everything in their home on McDowell Street.

To make things worse, the husband is receiving hospice care and uses an oxygen machine.That machine may have even sparked the fire.

News 12 investigated just how dangerous these machines can be.

When you mix a lot of oxygen and fire, the results can be really dangerous. But after talking to local experts, they say oxygen machines are extremely safe as long the right safety precautions are taken.

It all started when Larry Brizius got up to fill his oxygen machine with more water.

"They see a little spark, they didn't pay any attention, and they came back and found the bed on fire," said Battalion Chief Richard Burts.

He says he's never really heard of this happening before like this. And neither have local companies that provide these kinds of oxygen machines.

"I have been doing this since 1985 and I have never heard of a concentrator actually causing a fire," said Brenda Stafford, who works for Petsch Respiratory Services.

But what will cause a fire is smoking near the oxygen.

"Most of the time when there has been a house fire there has been someone smoking with oxygen on," she said.

Stafford says this happened just recently to a man who uses equipment from their company and he was burned because of it.

"They were smoking and they actually fell asleep and dropped their cigarette on the bed," Stafford said.

But Mr. Brizius and his wife say they weren't smoking. Once the fire broke out and they escaped, they say they heard some explosions.

"If you've got it hot enough that it forces the safety release valve to open up, well, you are going to have all the sudden a huge flow of gas, pressurized oxygen coming out of the tank, which could make the fire at that point be much stronger," Stafford said.

But she says the fire needs to be really hot for that to happen. She says the biggest thing most patients worry about is not the machines, it is the oxygen tanks themselves.

"The main thing is storage of the tanks and safety because a lot time that is the scariest thing to patients, you want to make sure you don't have them in the closet, you want them out in a ventilated area, you want keep your tanks where they won't fall over," she said.

When an oxygen machine is brought into a home, it should only be plugged into grounded outlets.

Stafford just wants everyone to know hundreds like Mr. Brizius use oxygen machines in our area, and they're normally really safe.

But now the Brizius family isn't so sure.

The actual cause of this fire is still under investigation. Right now it's the couple saying it could have been the oxygen machine.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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