Deadly Alternatives Dangerous Heat Source Kills 2; Others Overcome By Fumes
Khau Nguyen refused to use the propane heater in his rented Spokane Valley trailer Wednesday night.
That became a deadly decision for him and his housemate, Phan Duong. The two died when a charcoal grill they were using for heat filled their trailer with carbon monoxide, then a smoky fire.
Authorities fear similar tragedies may occur in the next few days as thousands of shivering Inland Northwest residents struggle to find ways to heat homes still without electricity.
Carbon monoxide poisoning and house fires are dangerous byproducts of portable gas heaters and overused fireplaces, they said.
Seven other people throughout Spokane County suffered non-fatal cases of carbon monoxide poisoning late Wednesday or early Thursday, authorities reported.
Symptoms of the condition - which can lead to brain damage or death - include nausea and dizziness.
Also Thursday, at least four elderly people were hospitalized with hypothermia, a potentially lethal lowering of body temperature. One man’s body temperature had dropped to only 74 degrees, fire officials said.
“They’re trying to tough it out and take care of their houses,” said Karl Bold, assistant chief of the Spokane Valley Fire District. “But if you don’t have heat - a good, reliable heat source - get to a shelter. Forget the house. Take care of yourself.”
Nguyen and Duong passed out from carbon monoxide and died of smoke inhalation just inside their front door about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, fire officials said.
“He was afraid of propane,” said Nancy Singleton, Nguyen’s landlord at the Greenacres Mobile Home Park. “He thought the tank leaked. He swore it was going to kill him.”
With the electricity out for the second straight night and his electric furnace not functioning, Nguyen brought the grill inside the blue and white trailer, filled it with Kingsford briquettes and set them aflame.
Shortly thereafter, he and Duong were overcome by carbon monoxide gas spewing from the grill, fire officials said.
In their rush to get out, one of them kicked over the grill, which sparked a fire that filled the trailer with smoke.
“They tried to get to the door but didn’t make it,” Bold said.
The victims’ exact ages weren’t known late Thursday. Nguyen was in his 50s and worked as a printer, Singleton said. Duong, a woman in her late 30s, was a cook.
Four of the other carbon monoxide victims were rushed to Fairchild Air Force Base for treatment in the base hospital’s hyperbaric chamber, said Lt. Col. Robert Grant, chief of flight medicine.
Authorities said all the cases were caused by people without electricity trying to heat their homes with things such as camp stoves and gas ovens - all of which give off colorless, odorless carbon monoxide gas.
Firefighters across Spokane County also were kept busy by scores of fires sparked by overused fireplaces and misused candles.
In a tiny Browne’s Addition apartment that was T-shirt-warm Thursday night, Tracie Lilienthal said she knows authorities warn against using gas ranges as heaters.
“But it works,” said Lilienthal, who shares the apartment with her 4-year-old daughter. “I turn it on for 20 minutes, then turn it off.
Doug Bleeker of Spokane County Fire Protection District 9 said many people have burned logs in their fireplaces constantly since Tuesday. But most fireplaces aren’t designed to handle that, he said, and heat is seeping through cracks in the masonry and igniting the insides of walls.
Bold recommended that people burn intermittently through the day and let the fires die out at night. “Just put on some extra blankets,” he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo 2 graphics: 1. The dangers of carbon monoxide 2. Emergency tips and phone numbers
MEMO: Changed from Idaho edition.
Changed from Idaho edition.