The state fire marshal of Oregon is continuing an investigation of a freakish accident that left a child seriously injured while in hospital for cancer treatment. It was on February 2 that 11-year-old Ireland Lane ran screaming from her room at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland as her blouse erupted in flames. Besides her cancer treatment, the tyke is undergoing skin grafting and burn treatment before returning to her home in Klamath Falls with her parents.
The apparently cause of the burns: a combustible mixture of flammable hand sanitizer and static electricity. Hand-sanitizers are now found not only in hospitals and clinics, but elsewhere as the public is concerned about communicable disease, especially influenza. Day care centers, churches and government offices also use the sanitizers to combat colds and other viruses and bacteria. The sanitizers, because of their alcohol content, are flammable and can be dangerous. In the presence of static electricity, which is the bane of homes and offices during the winter when indoor humidity is at a nadir, sanitizers become incendiary.
No one but the victim, Ireland Lane, saw the ignition of the flame, but investigators are concluding that the wall-mounted hand sanitizer in her room is the most likely source of fuel for the blaze. Ireland's father woke up are Ireland ran from her room and quickly smothered the flames with his own body. The victim was first taken to intensive care at the Doernbecher hospital, but was then transferred from intensive care to Legacy Oregon Burn Center where she was treated for third-degree burns extending from her navel to her face. Her arms were also affected, as well as her earlobes. Ireland's hair was also ignited.
Lane had stayed in his daughter's room overnight, and was dozing. The 34-year-old disabled Navy veteran awakened as Ireland rushed from the room, but quickly caught her in the hallway and smothered the flames with his own body. She was taken to intensive care, then to Legacy Oregon Burn Center. She suffered third-degree burns from just above her belly button to her chin as well as parts of her arms and the bottom of her earlobes. Her hair also caught on fire, her father says.
Ireland was to leave the care in the hospital on the day of the blaze. She remembers that she used sanitizer to clean a bedside table with a surface that extended over her bed. It was there that she had been painting a wooden box as a gift for her caregivers. Her father, according to The Oregonian, said that before the fire, Ireland was making static electricity with the sheets on her bed. He claimed that he had never heard that this might be dangerous.
A similar incident occured in 2002, where it was reported that a nurse's hand antiseptic was ignited by a spark of static electricity in Kentucky. In a 1998 case, an Arizona patient suffered burns caused by an alcohol-based antiseptic used in an operating room. While the manufacturers of non-alcohol-based sanitizers cite these dangers as reason to avoid their alcohol-based competitors, the Centers for Disease Control recommends sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
The Doernbecher Children's Hospital uses Avagaard D sanitizer, which is manufactured by 3M. Since it contains ethyl alcohol, labelling on the sanitizer warns that fire or flame should be avoided. 3M says that when used as directed, their product is safe.
Experts say that sanitizer fires, while rare, are possible since a surprisingly small amount of static electricity can ignite sanitizer vapor. Static electricity can be produced by sliding a patient from a stretcher to a bed, for instance, or when sheets are changed.
Ireland Lane has been undergoing treatment for a rare form of kidney cancer since 2007. Following dozens of surgeries, chemotherapy, radio-therapy and stem-cell treatments, she has managed to survive her bout with cancer. She is the eldest of four children in her family.