Woman badly burned

Gas fumes from lantern ignite in Sterling home

Posted: Monday, August 22, 2005

A woman in Sterling suffered first- and second-degree burns and the house she was in caught fire late Saturday while she was filling a Coleman lantern with gasoline and the fumes were ignited by a lit candle nearby.

The 50-year-old woman was in the bedroom of a single-story wooden house on Moose Range Drive off South Robinson Loop in Sterling, according to Central Emergency Services Fire Marshall Gary Hale. The woman’s name was not available. The house’s owner is listed as Honeysett.

The woman left the house and was heard screaming for help in the road. A neighbor across Moose Range Drive called 911 at 11:33 p.m. The victim had first-degree burns on her neck, first- and second-degree burns on her hands and first-degree burns on her chest, Hale said, but she didn’t have airway problems.

The house, which Hale estimated at 1,200 square feet or less, didn’t have electricity, so the candle and lantern were light sources.

The woman was likely burned nearly instantaneously.

“Gasoline vapors are heavier than air. As soon as she started pouring it was just probably within seconds that the fumes made it to the candle and ignited and flashed back to her,” Hale said.

CES sent one engine, three tankers, a medic unit, one ladder truck and three command vehicles to the scene. The victim was treated en route to Central Peninsula General Hospital and was kept there for further evaluation and treatment, Hale said.

Firefighters had some challenges ahead of them. It was difficult to even find the house since it was dark, the house was set back from the road at the end of a 200- to 300-foot driveway and there were no lights at the house to distinguish it from the trees.

Once firefighters found the house, it was difficult to asses the situation.

“With no power to the house the house was dark and it was dark outside. It was really hard to tell if the house was on fire,” Hale said.

No flames were showing outside the house and the only windows visible were covered with soot, so firefighters couldn’t tell if there were flames inside.

“It wasn’t visible at all until we put lights on the scene and we had smoke coming from the eaves of the house.”

Then there were the dogs. Hale said several Rottweilers were running loose on the property.

“Evidently they were in the house at time of the fire and when the victim burned herself she left the door to the house open,” Hale said. “That’s how the Rottweilers got out.”

Most didn’t pose too much of a problem to firefighters.

“I think pretty much they scared them away,” Hale said.

One dog stayed in the front entrance and wouldn’t let firefighters through at first. But soon the smoke became too much for it and it left the doorway.

“We didn’t have any apparent injuries to any animals in the house at the time of the incident,” Hale said.

Firefighters had the fire under control within 20 minutes of their arrival and declared it out in another 10 minutes, according to Hale.

Hale said most damage was concentrated in the bedroom where the lantern was. There was moderate to major fire damage to the bedroom and its contents, major smoke and heat damage to the rest of the interior and little or no visible damage to the exterior of the building, Hale said. He estimated $10,000 in damage was done to the structure, which is valued at $60,000.

The accident illustrates the danger inherent in pouring gasoline near an ignition source.

“A Coleman lantern is manufactured to have their specific fuel in it,” Hale said. “(Putting) gas into appliances that are not warranted for this type of use is extremely dangerous.”

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