AYER -- The cause of yesterday's two-alarm fire on 41 Shirley Street was a lit cigarette in the same environment as an oxygen tank, fire officials announced today.

The fire that occurred around 6:45 a.m. sent two people to the hospital for smoke inhalation, charring the three-story home and leaving what Chief Robert Pedrazzi estimated as at least $150,000 worth of damages.

Brenda Holmes and Linda Rodenhiser, who lived on the second and third floors respectively, escaped the fire. Several of Holmes' cats did not.

Investigators believe that the fire began on a blanket in Holmes' second-floor family room, according to a press release. The fire was the combination of the careless disposal of a cigarette and home oxygen.

Home oxygen gets absorbed into fibers in products and lowers the ignition temperature so that things burn much more rapidly, Pedrazzi said.

"It catches fire easier and it burns faster and hotter," he said. "That's why the place went up so quick."

There were several oxygen tanks in the home, Pedrazzi said, but one with an oxygen regulator on it had been in the fire.

"I don't know whether it was on or off," he said. "It really doesn't matter though because if you're using that stuff it gets absorbed into everything that's there."

State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said in a statement that using home oxygen means learning about new fire risks.


"For everyone, but crucial for those on home oxygen, have working smoke alarms on every level of the home and outside bedrooms," he said.

Officials advise that shutting off an oxygen tank to smoke is not sufficient, and warn there cannot be any smoking where oxygen is used.

When using home oxygen, they also advise keeping it away from heat sources and suggest not using flammable produces such as oils and grease.

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