Close call has B.C. senior warning of an unexpected fire hazard

Ruth Kaspick’s couch cushions went up in flames when a smouldering heat pack was hit with oxygen

Ruth Kaspick is lucky to be alive, and she knows it.

Now the Trail senior is sounding alarms about a seemingly innocuous everyday item that holds the potential to become a dangerous fire starter, as she recently discovered firsthand.

And that common household novelty is a heat pack. Specifically, a cloth bag filled with wheat husks and sewn tight, so that it can be warmed in a microwave oven and used over and over for comfort.

Ruth is now sharing her story about a house fire that she says began with the heating of one of these packs.

Read about COVID: IH makes changes to protect seniors receiving care

It was the morning of March 11, and her day started out like any other.

She rose early, had a bite to eat, and a little later, the 81-year old decided to lie down and watch T.V., maybe even catch a little shut-eye.

First, Ruth warmed up her heat pack in the microwave – she calls it her “bean bag” – then put it on her feet, and settled in on her chesterfield for a rest.

Next thing she remembers is being woken up by the clanging of the recycling truck in the back alley, after all it was her garbage pickup and recycle day.

But when she opened her eyes, her quaint East Trail home was filled with smoke and thick with the acrid smell of something burning.

Luckily, Ruth’s couch was very close to the back door. Feeling slightly off-kilter, all she could think of doing was opening up the door to let some air in, and get herself more oriented.

Once she did that, however, the breath of fresh air – full of oxygen – was so forceful that Ruth was blown back in a whoosh and the couch instantly ignited in flames as high as five feet.

Meanwhile, in the seconds this all took to happen, the Alpine recycling worker smelled smoke, glanced around, and saw Ruth’s face at the door and the flicker of flames behind her.

He ran up to the house, helped her outside, then quickly pulled the foam cushions off the couch and dragged them into the backyard. His quick thinking saved Ruth and likely saved her entire house from going up in a blaze.

“If it wasn’t for the garbage man making noise out there I wouldn’t be here,” Ruth told the Trail Times. “Even the front of my housecoat was singed. I couldn’t breathe very good and the back room was full of smoke,”she recounted. “So if it wasn’t for him, he helped me get out, I wouldn’t be here today.”

The Alpine worker also called 9-1-1, and that report went into the regional fire hall just before 10:15 a.m. that Wednesday morning.

BC Ambulance was called to the scene as well, and Ruth was transported to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.

She is still shaken, and since the terrifying ordeal, Ruth has been recovering at her son’s home in the Okanagan.

“Thirty seconds more, or if the recycling man wasn’t there when she opened the door, it would be a different story,” her son, Chris Kaspick, told the Times.

“Because her housecoat was already on fire, it was singed at the bottom, it was that close.”

With his mom settled in safe and at his side, Chris has been taking care of the business end of things, such as calling the insurance company and getting the house restored from smoke damage.

With the dust settled and residual shock starting to ease, Chris called the Trail Times from his Okanagan home to pass on what happened.

“After years of use, the husks in those bags can breakdown and become quite flammable,” he said. “And then, when it’s heated up and put on a couch that is made of foam, that becomes very flammable – it just smoldered while she was sleeping,” Chris explained. “So when the Alpine truck woke her up … and she cracked the back door open, as soon as the oxygen got it, it blew her back a bit and the oxygen set the fire.”

Before sharing this story with the Times, Chris had an even more important call to make, and that was to Alpine Disposal.

He had to thank the man who saved his mother and try to get this worker some sort of commendation, or at least some well-deserved recognition for his life-saving actions.

As the old saying goes, “Not All Heroes Wear Capes.”

“He’s a humble guy and said he just wants to be known as the recycle guy who helped out, and he doesn’t want his name out,” Chris said, his own voice cracking with emotion.

“All he said is, ‘if it was my mom, I wish somebody would do the same thing for her.’”

As Ruth readies to return home, one thing is clear, the terrifying experience did not steal her sense of humour.

Most of all, she wanted to warn others that these heat packs can become a fire hazard.

But Ruth also had one last thing to say.

“Now that I know, I’ll just get an electric one,” she quipped.



newsroom@trailtimes.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

City of TrailfireKootenay Boundary Regional DistrictSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: Langford man battling cancer honored with hot rod, motorcycle procession

Friends and family support Patrick O’Hara on his 73rd birthday

‘Seven baths in two days’: Homeless adjusting to life in hotels

Victoria passes motion to allow camping 24-7 in parks until June 25

Langford Fire calm mother and daughter after being trapped in elevator

Three-year-old girl given stuffed animal to calm nerves

Capital Regional District prepares to reopen regional campgrounds

Camping will look different at Island View, Sooke Potholes, Jordan River sites

Langford businesses can expand onto sidewalks, public spaces

Council passes new bylaw supporting business expansion

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

POLL: Do you agree with the provincial government’s decision to increase the minimum wage?

B.C.’s lowest-paid workers will be getting a few more dollars to try… Continue reading

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

As SD84 schools look to reopen, Kyuquot and Zeballos opt out

Schools in Tahsis and Gold River will open on June 1, with 30 per cent students expected to come in

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Most Read