A man smoking in bed while using medical oxygen suffered burns serious enough for him to be taken by helicopter to a Boston-area hospital, fire investigators determined.

State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey said the cause of a fire Sunday morning at 170 Main St., Haverhill — the Wadleigh House run by the YMCA next to City Hall — was the improper use of smoking materials. Investigators said the fire, reported about 5 a.m. when smoke alarms, heat detectors and sprinklers went off in the 22-resident rooming house, was caused by a resident smoking in bed.

A statement from Ostroskey's office said an investigation by Haverhill fire Chief William Laliberty, Haverhill police Chief Alan DeNaro, the Fire Marshal's office and State Police assigned to the district attorney's office determined that two sprinkler heads activated and limited the fire to a second-floor studio apartment. There, neighbors found a man in his late 50s or early 60s on fire on his bed, investigators said.

The neighbors entered the apartment before firefighters arrived and used fire extinguishers to put out the flames enough to move the man from his bed into the hallway. Haverhill firefighters, who were automatically notified when the sprinkler system was triggered, provided emergency medical care and took the man to Lawrence General Hospital, the statement said.

He was later taken by helicopter to a Boston-area hospital, where he remains in serious condition, according to Ostroskey's spokeswoman Jennifer Mieth.

Laliberty used Sunday's incident to warn residents of the potential dangers of creating an oxygen-rich environment.

“There is no safe way to smoke around home oxygen," he said. "Turning off the oxygen is not enough because your clothes, hair, bedding and the tubing soak up the oxygen and become oxygen-enriched."

Laliberty also stressed the importance of keeping oxygen and oxygen tubing 10 feet away from heat sources such as candles, matches, lighters, heaters, wood stoves, electric razors, hair dryers, cooking stoves and smoking materials.


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