First fire-related death of the year in Springfield was caused by smoking

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. Springfield recorded the first fire-related death of the year Tuesday.

It comes as the number of fatalities due to fire has been dropping.

Last year there were five people killed in fires. Officials say that's a lot for a city of our size.

Springfield Fire Department Division Chief Kevin Trogdon said, "If you look back long term smoking related fires are our number one reason for structure fires."

In fact, 11 percent of all building fires recorded during the last quarter are because of careless smoking, according to a new Springfield Fire report.

"They don't dispose of their cigarettes properly. It can be smoking in bed, falling asleep. Smoking on the couch, falling asleep, cigarette falls down into the couch. It may sit there for a few hours and it ignites later," explained Trogdon.

Another cause is smoking while wearing or near an oxygen tank.

Trogdon said, "You don't want to bring a fire or a spark close to breathing oxygen because it's highly, it's going to start a fire."

It's what killed 70 year-old Ray Atkinson.

However, just talking off the oxygen mask and walking outside to smoke isn't enough to prevent injury.

According to officials heat from his lighter ignited the oxygen lingering in the room. The flames severely burned him. He was taken to the hospital earlier this month but never recovered. Atkinson died more than a week after the accident.

Trogdon says this scenario is very common.

"When you're breathing on that oxygen for days and weeks on end then the oxygen, the excess ends up in your clothes. It can actually be radiating off and start a fire. It can be a higher concentration there which means it's going to catch fire that much easier," he said.

Fire officials say if you have to smoke around oxygen use extreme caution.

"We even recommend even putting on a smoking jacket something to contain that so that when you're outside smoking your clothing isn't going to burst into flames just because it's got that oxygen inside of it like that," said Trogdon.

Fire officials believe that education and their Red Zone Program, installing hundreds of smoke alarms in homes in the city may be a good reason why the number of fire related deaths are low this year.