Fumes from a generator sicken parents and four children

A Gresham family of six nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a gasoline-powered generator following a windstorm that knocked out their electricity.

Three of the Lifferth family's four children are listed in serious condition at two local hospitals, with one child and both parents in good condition, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

Shawn Lifferth called 911 at 9:26 a.m. Friday, unable to wake his children - Chelsea, 14; Hanna, 10; and 5-year-old twins, Gabriella and Colby - said Gus Lian, fire marshal for Gresham Fire and Emergency Services.

Firefighters arrived as Shawn and his wife, Patrice, carried their three youngest and unconscious children outside, where Shawn collapsed. The oldest girl had already made it outside and also fell in the yard, Lian said.

High winds knocked out electricity to the family's house in the 300 block of Northeast Scott Drive on the evening of Thursday. The family set up a generator in the house's attached garage and left the large, roll-up door open for ventilation.

But the father woke in the morning with a headache and felt disoriented. Immediately, he knew something was wrong, Lian said.

'Carbon monoxide fumes are hard to move out,' said Gus Lian, Gresham's fire marshal. They are heavier and thicker than oxygen, so they sink to ground level. 'Without there being proper ventilation, there was no way for the carbon monoxide to escape. The only place it had to go was in the house.'

High winds would have only swept any escaping fumes back into the garage, forcing them into the house through a door closed between the house and garage, Lian added.

Paramedics rushed all six family members to Oregon Health and Sciences University and Providence Portland Medical Center, the state's only hospital with a hyperbaric treatment clinic.

Treatment consists of being placed in a pressurized chamber in which oxygen is pumped at high pressure. This increases the concentration of oxygen in the bloodstream and counters the effects of carbon monoxide poison.

Hanna, 10, has been upgraded from critical to serious condition at Providence Portland Medical Center. She and Colby, 5, who also was listed in serious condition, were later transferred to Oregon Health and Science University.

Gabriella, 5, is listed in serious condition at Providence, where Chelsea, 14, and both parents are listed in good condition.

Gresham Fire and Emergency Services cautions that any fuel-powered equipment must be placed outdoors for adequate ventilation. Never use propane or briquette barbecues inside for heat, as 'the combustion byproducts produce carbon monoxide,' Lian said. 'Carbon monoxide is a hideous killer that can find its way through the smallest of spaces.'

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