Fire Marshall Warns of Fabric Softeners After Girl’s Nightgown Goes Up in Flames
(CLARK COUNTY, Wash.) -- A girl from Clark County, Wash., is in critical condition after her nightgown went up in flames, and fire department officials say liquid fabric softener may have played a role in accelerating the blaze.
Addie Perrenoud, 9, was in a bathroom Wednesday morning when she struck a match, presumably to light a candle, Clark County Assistant Fire Marshall Richard Martin said. Seconds later her nightgown caught fire and engulfed her in flames.
"From the time the girl's mother heard her daughter starting to scream until mom had the fire out was probably less than a minute," Martin told ABCNews.com. Perrenoud's mother ran to help her daughter, "tackling her to the floor and rolling her on the floor to get the flames out," Martin said.
The child suffered second- and third-degree burns on 75 percent of her body, according to reports.
She was flown by emergency helicopter to the Oregon Burn Center at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland. A hospital spokeswoman said she remained in critical condition Saturday afternoon.
First responders initially suspected that an accelerant of some kind -- such as an alcohol or an aerosol product -- caused the fire to catch faster than normal.
But Martin said he disagrees. Instead, a combination of fabric softener and flammable fabric probably caused the nightgown to catch fire as quickly as it did, he said.
"If that's the favorite nightgown, it's going to get washed a whole lot," he said. "As it wears, those fabrics break down and create more surface area to be exposed to the flame ... that fuzziness is what contributes to flammability."
Martin said warnings on Downy fabric softener labels say the product may degrade flame retardant qualities.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services Household Products database, fabrics like fleece and terry cloth are more flammable than other products.
"By increasing fluffiness, using liquid fabric softeners can increase the flammability of these types of fabrics," according to a database entry for Ultra Downy Liquid Fabric Softener. "Therefore, do not use this product on clothing made with these types of fluffier fabrics."
A spokesperson for Proctor and Gamble, which owns Downy, was unavailable for comment Saturday afternoon. Martin said he's not trying to pick on Downy, however.
"If she had not used fabric softener ever on that clothing, would it have made a difference? I can't answer that 100 percent," Martin said. "But it makes the fabric fluffier, which exposes more surface area to the flame."
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