Tragic Accident

Arizona family dies due to heating malfunction

Carbon monoxide is inferred as the likely cause of death in a tragic fatal accident at an Arizona cabin where a family of four were found dead last week, including a three and four year-old.

Police deputies are waiting on official feedback from medical examiners—but have said they think the lethal gas was likely the cause, given the circumstances—carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless.

A contractor said it found a “significant failure” in the heating system in the cabin, authorities said Tuesday.

Coconino County sheriff’s officials said the heating unit was the only gas appliance in the cabin near the small town of Parks, about 20 miles west of Flagstaff. Parks is part of the Coconino National Forest. The family was from El Mirage, Ariz., about 25 miles northwest of Phoenix, according to the Associated Press.

In a statement, sheriff’s officials said a licensed contractor from a heating and cooling company checked the unit at the cabin and “found a significant failure in the heating system which would be consistent with carbon monoxide overcoming the residence.”

The National Fire Protection Association describes carbon monoxide as “created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely.” Heating and cooking equipment are potential sources of the gas found in the home, while “vehicles or generators running in an attached garage can also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide,” says the NFPA’s safety advisory page. Specifics from that page can serve as a useful reminder for safety protocols:

  • The dangers of CO exposure depend on a number of variables, including the victim’s health and activity level. Infants, pregnant women, and people with physical conditions that limit their body’s ability to use oxygen (i.e. emphysema, asthma, heart disease) can be more severely affected by lower concentrations of CO than healthy adults would be.
  • A person can be poisoned by a small amount of CO over a longer period of time or by a large amount of CO over a shorter amount of time.
  • In 2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 80,100 non-fire CO incidents in which carbon monoxide was found, or an average of nine such calls per hour.  The number of incidents increased 96 % from 40,900 incidents reported in 2003. This increase is most likely due to the increased use of CO detectors, which alert people to the presence of CO.

The family has been identified as 32-year-old Anthony Capitano, 32-year-old Meaghan Capitano, 4-year-old Lincoln Capitano and 3-year-old Kingsley Capitano.

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