Wichita — With age comes wisdom, but also a rising risk of dying in a fire, statistics show.
A fresh reminder of the danger came with the death Nov. 11 of a 75-year-old woman at her rural Sedgwick County home.
While authorities say they will never know for sure how the fire started that claimed the life of Barbara Chambers, they have called it a textbook example of how fires are especially dangerous for the elderly.
Studies have shown that people age 65 through 74 are nearly twice as likely to die in a fire. Those 75 through 84 are nearly four times as likely to die in a fire, and those age 85 and older are more than five times as likely.
"They aren't able to move as quickly as they once did, or they're not able to process a situation as quickly as they once were able to," said Capt. Brad Crisp, an investigator for the Wichita Fire Department.
Investigators said Chambers had used her fireplace to warm the house outside Clonmel, southwest of Wichita, on a cold, windy night. Her 45-year-old nephew, Terry Bergen, was badly burned trying to pull Chambers from the flames and remains in critical condition at a Wichita hospital.
Crisp said the main causes of fires for senior citizens involve forgetfulness in the kitchen and with candles, space heaters and floor furnaces.
Sleepiness can sometimes result from certain medications, which can also produce a sleep so deep that someone might not hear the alarm from a smoke detector or not notice blankets have been accidentally moved onto a space heater.
Other perils include forgetting about a lit candle or wearing clothing with long, loose sleeves that ignite after touching a hot burner in the kitchen.
One step is to install smoke detectors that come with an emergency light, "so they can see to navigate through their house," Crisp said.
"Another good idea is a little, portable fire extinguisher," he said. "If you have a small fire, say, a small cooking fire, you can knock it down quickly if it's accessible and you know how to use it."