Scary burn incident reignites concern over smoking while on oxygen

After a recent burn incident at an assisted living facility in Asheboro, Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Mike Causey is warning North Carolinians how dangerous it is to smoke while using an oxygen tank.

According to Randolph County emergency officials, a resident with an oxygen tank was smoking when she reportedly caught fire. The victim was airlifted to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill on Saturday for treatment for burns.

“What happened in Asheboro was a terrible accident and our thoughts and prayers go out to the victim and we wish her a speedy recovery,” said Commissioner Causey. “This is also a tragic reminder of the dangers of smoking while using an oxygen tank and I hope others will learn a valuable lesson from this accident.”

Of the 117 fire deaths that occurred across North Carolina in 2019, about 10 percent could have the contributing factor of the victim smoking tobacco products while using an oxygen tank. Most of these fire deaths occur in people over the age of 65 and are mobility challenged.

State Fire Marshal Causey offered the following facts and figures regarding fires caused by medical oxygen:

  • Smoking while on oxygen increases the risk of fire.
  • The air we breathe every day contains about 21% oxygen.
  • The air delivered to people using oxygen concentrator contains nearly 100% oxygen, making it extremely flammable.
  • Smokers who use home oxygen may understand the need to turn the tank off before lighting up, but may not realize that the danger persists, even when the oxygen isn’t flowing.
  • After oxygen is turned off, increased oxygen levels still linger on the hair, skin and clothing of anyone receiving oxygen therapy. This creates the danger of serious burns on the head and face.
  • Once ignited, fires burn hotter and more rapidly in oxygen-rich surroundings. This leads to larger fires that are harder to extinguish and more difficult to escape.
  • Sparks created from striking a match or lighter are enough to ignite a fire while oxygen is in use.

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Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.