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Spate of smoking-related fire deaths cause concern in San Diego

The deaths of three people, two of them in Escondido, in smoking-related fires this week in San Diego County, is prompting a new look at smoking safety.

Wheelchair-bound Edward Rhodes (67) caught fire Wednesday night // while smoking outside the Palomar Heights Care Center in Escondido. There are conflicting versions whether the oxygen tank he had next to him exploded or not.

On Tuesday, Marsha Duran (55) was burnt to death in a fire accident caused by a smoking cigarette at her mother's home in rural Escondido. The fatal fire happened a day after another 62-year-old man who had been smoking in bed died in a San Diego fire.

Officials are urging smokers to take safety precautions. The California Cigarette Safety and Firefighter Protection Act was passed last year. On the lines of the state laws passed in New York and Vermont, Assembly Bill 138 requires that all cigarettes and thin cigars sold in the state be "fire-safe" starting next year.

Fire-safe cigarettes enclose tobacco in a special thin paper casing with bands around it. Unless being is actually puffed on, the cigarette gets extinguished on its own in two minutes.

Officials said unattended, smoldering cigarettes should be less of a fire hazard. The Burn Institute backed the law, which will help nonsmokers, too. A third of all cigarette-related fire deaths are children or people who don't smoke.

In its recommendations this week, the Escondido Fire Department noted that the fire fatality rate due to smoking is nearly four times higher nationally than the overall residential fire rate, and fire-related injuries due to smoking are more than twice as likely.

The three people who died in this week's smoking-related fires were all over age 50. The U.S. Fire Administration has developed a fire safety campaign for smokers over 50. It includes a warning that using alcohol or medications that may cause drowsiness compound the fire hazard.

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