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East Portland woman dies following a fire

Officials believe cigarette sparked fatal oxygen fire

A 70-year-old woman died following a fire in which a cigarette burned plastic tubing from her oxygen tank.

When firefighters arrived at the woman's home at the Mobile Estates, 16745 S.E. Division St., at 10:25 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, they found a man performing chest compressions on his wife. He found her unconscious and not breathing when he came home.

Firefighters from Portland Fire Station 31 were unable to revive the woman, identified as Mary Eilers, but a paramedic noticed burns on the woman's face and fingers. They also found what appeared to be a burned cigarette and melted plastic tubing.

The woman has been on oxygen for medical reasons. Firefighters suspect that the oxygen tubing caught on fire and the patient inhaled toxic smoke and heat from the burning plastic.

Multnomah County Medical Examiner's Office officials confirmed that she had inhalation burns in her nose and throat, but are listing the cause of death as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Cause of the fire is still under investigation.

'It's a real tragedy,' said Firefighter Anthony Schaffer, a fire bureau spokesman. He estimates that the bureau sees at least a few deaths every year in which supplemental oxygen is involved.

It can be a hazard because oxygen can fuel a spark that would not ordinarily burn. To stay safe while using supplemental oxygen, the fire bureau recommends the following:

•Never smoke or allow others to smoke near supplemental oxygen.

• Never use oil, lubricants or any other grease on or around oxygen equipment.

• Never use electrical appliances, such as a hair dryer, while using oxygen.

• Never use anything flammable, such as gasoline, alcohol-containing sprays or paint thinners, while using oxygen.

• Keep oxygen equipment away from open flames, such as candles, fireplaces, hot water heaters and gas stoves.

• Make sure to turn oxygen equipment off when not in use.

• In case of fire, get out, stay out and call 9-1-1.

• If you hear a hissing sound from an oxygen container, make sure to call the company that supplies the oxygen right away.