Menlo Park woman using oxygen dies in accidental fire


A woman who was smoking in her Menlo Park home while also using oxygen in a medical cylinder to breathe died last night (June 14) when she caught on fire, according to a news bulletin from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

The woman was identified by the San Mateo County Coroner's Office as Sally Banks, 72.

Firefighters were called out to a home on North Lemon Avenue at around 9:17 p.m., and when they arrived at 9:20 found Banks "unresponsive," according to the bulletin issued by Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman. She had burns on her upper body, and the fire crew determined that she had died of her injuries.

The incident had been called in by a caregiver at the house, who had not been in the room when the fire started, Schapelhouman said. The caregiver had a short time before changed the oxygen cylinder, he said. Family members arrived at the scene while the fire crew was still there, he said.

Fire Marshal Jon Johnston said it appeared that Banks "was either adjusting or in some way addressing medical tubing used to carry the oxygen, when the accident occurred," according to the news bulletin.

The fire resulted in an estimated $3,000 in structural damage and $500 in content loss, Schapelhouman said.

"The attendants attempted to assist this woman once they realized something was wrong and also quickly called 911," he said in the bulletin.

"These types of tragic incidents, while rare, do occur when cigarettes, or any type of open flame, come into contact with oxygen," he noted. "The oxygen itself isn't flammable, but it is an oxidizer which highly supports the ignition and combustion of anything flammable, like upholstery, wood products, plastic and clothing."

Schapelhouman said the woman had been sitting up when the accident happened.


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