Man in fair condition after apartment fire

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:34 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting.]

A Columbia resident was hospitalized Tuesday night after the bed in his apartment caught fire.

Fire investigators determined the cause of the fire to be careless smoking that ignited a futon mattress in the living room of an apartment at 1107 Locust St.

The resident, Paul Thompson, 27, was taken to University Hospital and was in fair condition as of 10 p.m. after suffering from smoke inhalation.

Lower temperatures Tuesday prompted Kurt Kitson, who lives in the only other apartment in the building, to turn on his heater, Kitson said. When the heater came on, smoke poured out of the vents and just kept coming, he said. The smoke didn’t stop, so he started searching for the source of the smoke, which led him to Thompson’s apartment next door.

“I knew he was inside, but he didn’t answer the door,” Kitson said. From outside Thompson’s ground-floor window, Kitson said he could see smoke in front of the television, so he called 911.

When firefighters arrived, they found “a male subject that was passed out on a smoldering mattress,” said Battalion Chief Steven Sapp. Firefighters unsuccessfully attempted to wake him. Sapp said firefighters evacuated the man from the apartment, then extinguished and removed the mattress, which was completely charred.

“He was fairly unresponsive throughout the whole thing,” Sapp said.

Sapp said the apartment’s smoke detector did not have batteries, so it did not set off an alarm. He said it would have been a matter of minutes before the fire and smoke caused serious damage and injury.

“We were extremely lucky we didn’t have a fire fatality here,” he said. “When you disable your smoke detector, it’s the same as not having one.”

Neither Sapp nor Kitson could explain why Thompson was unconscious.

Thompson’s apartment suffered heavy smoke and some fire damage, but Kitson’s apartment had no serious damage, Sapp said.

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