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Medical oxygen extra threat in home fires

The state fire marshal’s office says that two recent fires, one in Orange and one in the Berkshire County town of Hinsdale, involved home oxygen use.

The agency is continuing to investigate four recent fires in Franklin County, with leads in two cases.

Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the fire marshal, said investigators had not pinpointed the cause of the Orange fire, but medical oxygen fanned the flames.

“One of the things that certainly contributed to the spread of the fire was there was home oxygen in the apartment,” Mieth said.

The two-alarm fire on Sunday morning in Orange destroyed two apartments in the 200 East River St. building and displaced 11 residents of the Colonial Acres apartments, which is home to elderly, disabled and low-income residents.

One resident was treated for smoke-inhalation. Two of eight apartments were destroyed, but the remainder were left uninhabitable due to lack of electricity and heat Sunday.

The apartments are managed by the Orange Housing Authority, which could not be reached Monday.

Orange Fire Capt. Jim Young said residents are staying with friends, family and other properties owned by the Housing Authority.

There was water and smoke damage to the apartments not destroyed, as well as extensive roof damage, and it will probably be a long time before the building is habitable again, Young said.

Mieth said another fire on Sunday involving home oxygen injured three people, one critically, and left six homeless in Hinsdale.

Mieth said that fire was caused by someone smoking while using home oxygen, and the two fires on the same day illustrated the need to be careful with medical oxygen.

Medical oxygen increases the oxygen levels in the home, soaking into people’s clothes, furniture and bedding, creating an oxygen-rich environment in which fires burn hotter and spread faster, Mieth said.

Medical oxygen contributes to two to three fire deaths a year, Mieth said.

In the Conway fire, which destroyed a double-wide trailer home and vehicles at 1602 Main Poland Road on Friday, Mieth said investigators are focusing on a pellet stove and space-heater but the destruction may rule out a definitive answer.

“I don’t think they’ll ever be able to firmly identify a cause,” Mieth said.

Mieth said the Ashfield fire, which destroyed a log cabin home at 298 Briar Hill Road on Friday afternoon, was still under investigation.

The Sunday morning New Salem fire, which burned an unoccupied storage and workshop building at 837 Daniel Shays Highway, was similarly under investigation without definite sign of a cause. Mieth said no update was available on the investigation because the state trooper investigating the fires had no cellphone connection.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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