Hand Sanitizer, Olive Oil, Static Electricity Starts Fire That Burns Girl With Cancer In Her Hospital Room

9:17 PM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
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  • Ireland Lane, 11 KOIN-TV

PORTLAND, OR-- Deputy State Fire Marshal Dan Jones confirmed on Wednesday that an "extremely unusual" mix of hand sanitizer, olive oil and static electricity was the reason behind a fire that burned an 11-year-old while in her hospital bed.

"We found that given the mixture of the olive oil and the hand sanitizer on the cotton shirt, it was like a candle wick that was easily ignited by the static that was in the bedding and clothing in her room," Jones said at a news conference at Oregon Health Science & University (OHSU).

Ireland Lane had used an ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizer at Oregon Health & Science University's Doernbecher Children's Hospital, Fire Marshal Mark Wallace said. The girl's father, Stephen Lane, has said she also likely wiped the sanitizer on her T-shirt and wiped her bedside table with it.

Olive oil on Ireland's T-shirt and hair compounded the severity of the Feb. 2 fire, Wallace said. Olive oil is sometimes used to remove the glue that holds electrodes to the scalp for an EEG exam. According to the report obtained by The Oregonian, the olive oil had been combed through Ireland's hair as well and was dripping on her shirt. She also wiped some of the oil onto her clothing.

"The ignition source would not have been adequate to ignite the olive oil on the shirt without the presence of the hand sanitizer as well," the report stated.

Cancer survivor catches fire at hospital: Is hand sanitizer to blame?

The girl, who turns 12 Thursday, had recently learned about static electricity and apparently was trying to create static sparks in her bed by scuffing her feet and rubbing the bed linens. Wallace said a static charge likely ignited fumes from the hand sanitizer and burned Ireland's olive oil-saturated cotton shirt.

The Klamath Falls child suffered second- and third-degree burns to about 19 percent of her body, The Oregonian has reported. Ireland has already undergone one skin graft surgery and a second surgery was scheduled for Thursday.

Her father Steven Lane told The Oregonian earlier that his daughter did not remember being on fire.

"She still has bad dreams, but she doesn't recall the actual incident, which from my perspective is very good," Steven told The Oregonian.

Her mother told CBSNews.com that her daughter celebrated her 12th birthday one day before on Wednesday because she was expected to be in surgery on her actual birthday.

"This was a very unusual combined set of circumstances that resulted in this young girl getting burned," the fire marshal said.

Jones added that the investigators tried several tests to recreate the fire, and discovered that the olive oil kept the fire in one area and stopped it from spreading, CBS affiliate KOIN in Portland, Ore. reported.

The hospital, which supplied the hand sanitizer, immediately announced changes in its protocols.

Patients sometimes use olive oil to remove the glue that holds electrodes to the scalp for an EEG exam if the patient is allergic to the common compound that is used, a hospital spokesman told The Oregonian.

"We are no longer suggesting the use of olive oil for patients who have an allergic reaction to EEG gel remover," Dr. Stacy Nicholson, hospital physician-in-chief, said after the findings were announced. "In addition, while our placement and use of hand sanitizer meets industry standards, we plan to review our procedures to see if there are any additional adjustments we can make to promote safety."

The hospital will also be looking at its evacuation procedures and policies based on the fire marshal's recommendations, KOIN said. The Oregonian reported that the hospital staff did not enact a "code red" page for the building when the fire took place, and other patients in the areas that were affected by smoke were not evacuated.

Wallace said alcohol-based hand sanitizers are safe when used according to instructions.

"OHSU, as all medical facilities in Oregon, are very safe places," he said. "There is no reason to believe that anyone at OHSU or any other medical facility is in danger based on this highly unusual event."

A survivor of a rare childhood kidney cancer, Ireland had been was admitted to the hospital initially because she hit her head at school and lost consciousness. She was due to leave the hospital the day of the fire.

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