Discuss as:

Hand sanitizer may have ignited hospital fire that hurt girl, 11

Investigators believe hand sanitizer and static electricity may have sparked fire that burned an 11-year-old Oregon girl in her bed. KGW's Mike Benner reports.

 

Update, Feb. 20, 2013: A mix of hand sanitizer, olive oil and static electricity was apparently to blame for a hospital fire that burned an 11-year-old Oregon girl earlier this month. Oregon State Fire Marshal investigators said Wednesday that olive oil used to remove medical testing residue likely combined with hand sanitizer and sparks from static electricity created by bedding and clothing to start the blaze that left Ireland Lane with serious injuries, according to Rich Hoover, a spokesman for the agency.

Feb. 19, 2013: Hand sanitizer ignited by static electricity is being investigated as the potential source of a hospital fire that severely burned an 11-year-old Oregon cancer patient, officials said Tuesday.

No cause has been determined yet for the blaze that sent Ireland Lane screaming into a hallway, her T-shirt ablaze, at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland on Feb. 2.

But Rich Hoover, a spokesman for the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office, said that flammable sanitizer and a spark of static electricity could be to blame for the rare incident.

“Those are definitely part of the investigation,” said Hoover, who expected the probe to be complete by Wednesday.

Ireland was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2007, her father, Stephen Lane, told the Oregonian newspaper. But she was being treated for a head injury after a fall at school. She was transferred to Legacy Oregon Burn Center after the fire, which burned 12 percent of her body, according to her father.

Lane, of Klamath Falls, Ore., told NBC News affiliate KGW that he was dozing in his daughter’s hospital room when he was awakened by her screams. She ran out of the room and into the hallway, where her father covered her with his body to snuff the flames. A hospital unit coordinator and a nurse manager also rushed to smother the fire, hospital officials said.

“I remember being scared at first, but my hard memories are of putting her out,” Lane told NBC News. “It’s hard to see your child hurt at all, but to be on fire and screaming …”

Doernbecher officials worked quickly to get the girl to intensive care, according to spokeswoman Tamara Hargens-Bradley. Ireland has had one skin graft, her father said.

Ireland apparently was working on a craft project in her hospital bed just before the fire, Hargens-Bradley said. She was using hand sanitizer and may have gotten some of the substance on her shirt, her father said. It is possible to create static electricity with sheets and plastic bedcovers or room furnishings, but reports of such sparks starting fires are very rare.

“We’ve never heard of it in Oregon,” Hoover said.

Doernbecher, a hospital in the Oregon Health Sciences University system, uses hand sanitizer that is 60 percent alcohol, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, Hargens-Bradley said in a statement.

Sanitizer has been rarely implicated in hospital fires. In 2006, a nurse with wet sanitizer on her hands caught fire from a spark from an oxygen flow meter in an oxygen-rich environment, said Mark Bruley, vice president of accident and forensic investigation for the ECRI Institute, a health care safety organization. 

Bruley said it would be "extraordinarily rare" for static electricity to spark a fire from hand sanitizer, but it is possible, he told NBC News.

"A spark could ignite the vapors," he explained. 

Ireland, who was set to leave the hospital the day the fire occurred, must have more skin grafts this week, her father said.
“Our hearts go out to the child and her family. Nothing like this has ever happened at Doernbecher,” Dr. Stacy Nicholson, the hospital’s physician-in-chief, said in a statement. “We anxiously await their findings and will certainly make adjustments if the cause was preventable.”

Related story: