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East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service logo
Oxygen rich fires
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Fire cause by carelessly disposed smoking materials or a dislodged candle

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Fire damaged Oxygen cylinder

Fire damaged Oxygen cylinder


Internal fire damage

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External fire damage

External fire damage

How this fire happened

Both scenarios could have smouldered for some time before developing into a flaming fire involving a settee in the ground floor sitting room.

The occupier was a lady suffering from emphysema and fed oxygen via a tube from cylinders. The tubes were long enough to allow her to move around the ground floor without the need to move equipment or cylinders.

The lady lived on the ground floor and two other adult family members slept in bedrooms on the first floor.

It is known that the lady smoked cigarettes and it's believed the other adults also smoked.

On the night of the fire, her family went to their bedrooms at approximately 2330 hours. They were woken an hour and half later by the smell of smoke. Her family escaped via an upstairs window as the fire was already affecting the staircase.

Neighbours called the fire service after hearing a lot of noise and seeing flames issuing from the sitting room window.

The neighbours found the two family members outside in a state of shock. A number of small bangs were heard followed by a louder explosion, after which flames were seen from the front door and upstairs windows. Sadly, the lady died as a result of the fire.

The subsequent failure of the oxygen cylinders after the fire had reached them had contributed significantly to the rapid development of this fire.

On arrival the fire crews witnesses bright orange flames indicating temperatures of 1000oC-1200oC (ref. Kirks Fire Investigation, 4th Edition), bringing the sitting room and other areas to *flash over. This can occur at 600oC.

*flash over: where the heat from a fire in a room heats the other items in the room to their auto ignition temperature, causing them to simultaneously ignite.

The effect it had

Safety message

Oxygen enrichment is the term often used to describe situations where the oxygen level is greater than in air.

Oxygen is colourless, odourless and tasteless. The presence of an oxygen enriched atmosphere cannot be easily detected by the human senses.

The main danger to people from an oxygen enriched atmosphere is that clothing or hair can easily catch fire, causing serious or even fatal burns.

For example, people can easily set their clothing and bedding on fire by smoking while receiving oxygen treatment for breathing difficulties.

Smoking should be avoided where oxygen is being used.

Oxygen enrichment is often the result of:

  • Leaks from damaged or poorly maintained hoses, pipes and valves;
  • Leaks from poor connections;
  • Opening valves deliberately or accidentally;
  • Not closing valves properly after use;
  • Using an excess of oxygen in welding, flame cutting or a similar process;
  • Poor ventilation where oxygen is being used.

Consequently, the main ways to prevent oxygen enrichment are to keep oxygen equipment in good condition and to take care when using it.

Good ventilation will also reduce the risk of oxygen enrichment.

Further information

These videos show the highly flammable nature of Oxygen rich fuelled fires.

Do you have a similar story?

Finally, we would be interested to hear from you if you have had a similar experience to the fire detailed above, or would like to raise any related matters or even just generally comment on how useful you found our Black Museum.

Please send us your details and a comments via our on-line feedback form.



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Latest Update :
30 January 2015
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