Cigarette in room with oxygen caused fatal blaze in St. Joseph

Thursday, July 29, 2010 | 6:45 a.m. CDT

ST. JOSEPH — St. Joseph fire investigators say a fire that killed an elderly couple at a senior housing unit in northwest Missouri began when a man connected to an oxygen machine fell asleep while smoking.

Fire investigator Steve Henrichson says Roger Owens fell asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand on July 25 while his oxygen machine was on. Henrichson says Owens' clothes caught on fire and the oxygen caused the fire to spread rapidly at the Danford Hall Apartments in St. Joseph.

The fire killed 89-year-old Ellis Marion Stephens, and his 86-year-old wife, Iris. Officials believe the couple, who were found in a hallway, were overcome by smoke.

The St. Joseph News-Press reports that Owens is recovering in intensive care at Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph.

The owner of Danford Hall, which had more than 40 residents in 38 apartments, says the complex will reopen when repairs are completed.

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