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Linseed oil is source of Bluff Street fire

A common household product has been determined as the cause of the fire that claimed a Bainbridge Island garage and the lives of two cats.

Investigators with Bainbridge Island Fire Department have determined Wednesday's fire at a home on Bluff Street was accidental and was sparked by a container of paper towels soaked with linseed oil.

Linseed oil is commonly used as a finish for wood furniture.

"We were able to dig to the container that the rags were in," said Fire Marshal Luke Carpenter. "It was like an arrow pointing to this thing."

While many oils are known to be dangerous around a flame, linseed oil has the capability to become dangerous all on its own.

"When linseed oil cures it creates an exothermic reaction," Carpenter said. "What that means is it gives off heat, and sometimes it's enough heat to cause combustion."

The towels were recently used to apply the linseed oil to furniture at the home.

"Linseed oil is used for finishing furniture, you can buy it all over the place," he added. "But it is an oil that, as it dries, creates heat."

Carpenter noted that the phenomenon of linseed oil self-igniting is nothing new, and is a common chemical reaction. He pointed to a number of online videos demonstrating just that.

Carpenter said that the fire department will work toward building a public campaign to educate islanders about the dangers of unattended linseed oil.

The fire that grew from the container destroyed the garage, but spared the adjoining house.

The home, however, suffered significant smoke damage. The smoke claimed the lives of two cats in the house. Firefighters were able to save the life of a family dog.

"When they found the dog and brought him out he was basically taking his last breath," Carpenter said. "We took a human oxygen delivery system and tweaked it a little bit so it would blow oxygen into his nose."

Firefighters waited at the dog's side, tending to it for approximately 15 minutes, until it showed signs that it would be OK.

"That's what he needed, more oxygen in him," Carpenter said. "He began to come around. He spent the night in the doggy hospital and came home the next day."

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