WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - We now know the cause of Monday's deadly fire at a Westfield apartment complex for the elderly or disabled: smoking and using home oxygen.
Now the focus is on fire safety education for the elderly at a time when home oxygen use is growing.
Smoking can kill you but smoking near a home oxygen tank can kill others.
State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said, "It puts everyone in the building at risk, in the past, these fires have injured or killed, innocent neighbors or children. They also put firefighters at risk."
Smoking and using home oxygen was determined to be the cause of a deadly fire in Westfield. More than 100 residents of the apartment complex for the elderly or disabled had to be evacuated Monday and the accident took the life of 72 year old Margaret Lunden.
Fire officials warn, it could have been much worse.
"[Smoke detectors] are your first line of defense but they cannot save people all by themselves, they give you an early warning of danger but in fire seconds count," said Westfield Fire Chief Mary Regan.
Home oxygen soaks into clothing, furniture and even hair, making the fire burn faster and hotter even when the tank isn't on.
The State Fire Marshal also said the Westfield council on aging and fire department were planning to launch a senior fire education program and this fire at the complex now emphasizes that need.
Since oxygen therapy has become more portable, it's an increasing problem. Home oxygen use has been involved in 34 deaths since 1997, prompting new focus on prevention.
Tommy Carroll of Westfield thinks more prevention should be taken. "I would definitely make a law for elderly homes or elderly places wherever they stay, 60 and older, there shouldn't be any smoking, if they need to outside," said Carroll.
There is also legislation pending that would create a statewide program to provide grants so cities and towns can better educate the elderly in their communities.