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A Tragedy That Provides Important Lessons in Fire Safety

In my August 2 post, I described recent incidents of fire at hotels and concert venues, and advised readers to think ahead of time about what to do in case a fire breaks out when you are in a hotel, arena, store, or anyplace else outside your home.

Well, if those stories didn’t convince you to think more about fire safety, hopefully this story will. In New Ulm, Minnesota, the Bohemian Bed and Breakfast had been a centerpiece of this small town since 1899. But on a night in early July, police and firefighters responded to a fire at 1:45 a.m. Unfortunately, within minutes the fire had engulfed the front of the house.

One man who lives in an apartment next to the inn said that when he smelled smoke early Saturday, he thought it was coming from a campfire. But then “I heard breaking glass, and then I saw a brighter light than the street light,” he said. When he looked out of his second-story window, he saw the front of the house engulfed.

He also saw one of the homeowners standing next to the burning house, yelling for his trapped wife to toss their children from the window of the third story, where the family lived. The neighbor said he couldn’t see anyone in the smoky window and he heard no response–after all, smoke can make a person unconscious after just a few breaths, and death from poisonous smoke inhalation can come quickly after that. In fact, 80 percent of fire deaths are from smoke inhalation rather than severe burns!

This is exactly why, even if you are at a place like a small bed and breakfast, you should learn where all the windows and doors are located, and the fire extinguishers too. Remember: there will be absolutely no time to figure things out in the middle of smoke and fire. In such a situation, you have only a few seconds to save your own life and the lives of others.

In all, six people died in this house fire. “I think the whole town is devastated,” said another neighbor, who as a child played in the inn when her aunt and uncle owned it. “We’ve never had a fire as tragic as this,” said a New Ulm Police Commander. He added that arson isn’t considered likely, but authorities are still working to determine a cause for the fire.

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