Fabric softener may have played role in girl's burns

Liquid Downy might have made nightgown worn by La Center girl, 9, more flammable, official says

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

Published:

 

Liquid fabric softener may have played a role in the fast-spreading fire that caused severe burns to a 9-year-old La Center girl on Wednesday.

Addie Perrenoud was sent to the hospital with second- and third-degree burns on 75 percent of her body after her homemade flannel nightgown caught fire Wednesday morning. She was flown to the Oregon Burn Center at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland via Life Flight helicopter and was listed in critical condition Friday afternoon, a Legacy spokeswoman said.

Firefighters initially thought an accelerant such as hair spray, or aerosol air freshener might have been responsible for the fast-spreading fire on the girl’s clothing. Fire Marshal Richard Martin on Friday said he thinks the family’s use of Downy liquid fabric softener might have played a role.

Liquid fabric softeners “fluff up” fabric fibers, he said. “In doing that it presents more surface area as a fuel so it burns a whole lot better,” Martin said.

Downy warning labels and some studies say the fabric softener may degrade flame-retardant treatment, Martin said.

He thinks most fabric softeners would have the same effect; he’s not sure about fabric softening sheets.

Downy is marketed by Procter & Gamble, one of the world’s largest consumer products companies. A call to the Cincinnati-based company was not returned Friday afternoon, but the company on its website notes that one of the ingredients in Downy is ethanol.

The website says that consumer product packaging for Downy non-concentrated liquid fabric softener has the following precautionary statement: “Do not use this product on children’s sleepwear or garments labeled as flame resistant as it may reduce flame resistance. Do not use on garments made with fluffier fabrics containing cotton (such as fleece and terry cloth) as it may increase the flammability of these fabrics.”

Martin said he knows the fire started when Addie lit a match in a bathroom at her home, but after that he’s not positive how things played out.

The properties of the Addie’s clothing, including how loose-fitting it was, what it was made of and how it was woven could have played a role in the fire, Martin said. The night gown was 3 years old and was, presumably, washed dozens of times.

Martin says people should be careful around potential ignition sources, including matches, open flames or even hot burners on the stove.