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Smoking near oxygen device apparent cause of Wichita high-rise fire

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, at 11:15 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, at 7:06 a.m.

A fire in a six-story Wichita apartment building Tuesday night, apparently caused by a resident smoking near oxygen equipment, sent that person and a second to a hospital in critical condition before their conditions markedly improved, a fire official said.

Firefighters also had to evacuate more than 60 people, fire Capt. Stuart Bevis said Wednesday. Many of the residents of the apartments, at Willow Creek Manor, southeast of Lincoln and Oliver, have medical conditions or physical disabilities that require them to use walkers or wheelchairs, Bevis said.

Fire crews responded to the fire just before 9:30 Tuesday night and found smoke on the fourth floor. Firefighters were able to keep some of the residents in place by getting smoke out of the building, at 1301 S. Bleckley, Bevis said.

The fire, around a bed in a bedroom on the fourth floor, was quickly contained, he said. The 58-year-old man living in that apartment was initially in critical condition with smoke inhalation, and singed hair, when he was taken to a hospital but was expected to be released Wednesday.

It appears that the fire probably was caused by the resident smoking while oxygen equipment was operating, and it is a reminder of the danger of having flames around oxygen equipment, because oxygen makes anything burn more readily, Bevis said.

“It can be a spectacular fire when you add pure oxygen to it.”

People might think it’s safe to put oxygen equipment a little ways away from a fire source, but it’s not because the equipment is constantly running and sending oxygen snaking through tubing, and the equipment can leak and coat surrounding materials, making them susceptible to being ignited, Bevis said.

In another incident earlier this year, someone died in a fire involving someone smoking around oxygen equipment, he said.

He estimated Tuesday’s loss at $25,000 to the structure and $25,000 to contents.

Most residents were able to return to their apartments.

A second person, also taken to a hospital in critical condition, was expected to fully recover and be released from a hospital Wednesday, Bevis said.

It appears that the 58-year-old resident, who is disabled, initially tried to extinguish the fire and was yelling for help as smoke alarms sounded, Bevis said.

“He was really lucky to get out.” An odor apparently woke up the man.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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