Menlo Park woman using oxygen dies in accidental fire

Fire marshal: Accident occurred while woman was adjusting or addressing medical tubing

A woman who was smoking in her Menlo Park home while also using oxygen in a medical cylinder to breathe died Friday night when she caught on fire, according to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

The woman was identified by the San Mateo County Coroner's Office as Sally Banks, 72.

Firefighters were called out to a home on North Lemon Avenue at around 9:17 p.m., and when they arrived at 9:20 p.m. found Banks "unresponsive," according to a bulletin issued by Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman. She had burns on her upper body, and the fire crew determined that she had died of her injuries.

The incident had been called in by a caregiver at the house, who had not been in the room when the fire started, Schapelhouman said. The caregiver had a short time before changing the oxygen cylinder, he said. Family members arrived at the scene while the fire crew was still there, he said.

Fire Marshal Jon Johnston said it appeared that Banks "was either adjusting or in some way addressing medical tubing used to carry the oxygen, when the accident occurred," according to the news bulletin.

The fire resulted in an estimated $3,000 in structural damage and $500 in content loss, Schapelhouman said.

"The attendants attempted to assist this woman once they realized something was wrong and also quickly called 911," he said in the bulletin.

"These types of tragic incidents, while rare, do occur when cigarettes, or any type of open flame, come into contact with oxygen," he noted. "The oxygen itself isn't flammable, but it is an oxidizer which highly supports the ignition and combustion of anything flammable, like upholstery, wood products, plastic and clothing."

Schapelhouman said the woman had been sitting up when the accident happened.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


13 people like this
Posted by Baffled
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 16, 2019 at 1:08 pm

Tragic but smoking cigarettes & using O2 support concurrently?

Like this comment
Posted by So sorry
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 17, 2019 at 4:23 pm

My sympathies go out to the family. What a horrific way to go. I feel like the caregiver should bear some responsibility. The patient should never have been left alone- perhaps she had dementia but she obviously made a poor choice. I’m not understanding the comment, “the caregiver had a short time before changing the oxygen cylinder” but the article said she was not in the room. It could just be bad reporting but it sounds like negligence to me. People, choose the caregivers for you loved ones very carefully and then check up on them constantly.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Disposing of Disposables
By Sherry Listgarten | 22 comments | 2,326 views

Facing high kitchen turnover, Los Altos' The Post revamps majority of its menu
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 1,981 views

Couples Counseling, Al Pacino Style
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,780 views

Anonymous Sources: Facebook and YouTube suppressing important questions and discussion
By Douglas Moran | 5 comments | 613 views

By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 364 views