MONTROSE – An elderly Montrose man, Richard Swyhart, 86, died Monday morning in a Denver hospital from burns he received after his house caught fire Sunday afternoon. The cause of the fire is listed as accidental by the Montrose Fire Department, and Fire Chief Bob Pistor said it was likely started because Swyhart, a paraplegic, was smoking while using oxygen.
“I think people think there’s not any danger to it and nothing’s going to happen,” Pistor said, of smoking while hooked up to an oxygen tank. “But obviously it can.
“If you use oxygen, you shouldn’t smoke.”
Anyone on oxygen who can’t quit smoking, Pistor said, they should be far away from their oxygen source lighting up.
Several people have died or been injured in recent years from smoking while using oxygen, Pistor said. Phillip Reed, 72, of Austin, died in an Aurora burn unit a week after fire destroyed his home in September of 2007. A longtime uranium miner with lung problems, Reed was also smoking and on oxygen.
Swyhart’s next door neighbor, Joyce Harrison, said Dick Swyhart did smoke and use oxygen, but that his brother Oliver “Bud” Swyhart, a few years younger, believes that Dick may have been smoking and fell asleep on the sofa.
At some point, fire hit the plastic oxygen line that Dick Swyhart used throughout the house.
“The oxygen tank was back in the bedroom, but it caught the line and blew it up,” Harrison said.
After the fire and his brother’s transport to a Denver hospital, Bud Swyhart spent the night with Harrison and her husband Eldon. Joyce Harrison said he learned Monday morning that his brother had died at 12:40 a.m. at the Colorado Health Service Center in Denver.
The fire started about 24 hours earlier and was first reported at 12:38 p.m. Sunday, according to a report from the Montrose Fire Department.
Bud Swyhart had been out and saw smoke when he arrived home, Pistor said. He ran to a neighbor's house and called 911 and then got his brother out of the house with the help of neighbors.
Dick Swyhart was a paraplegic because of a stroke, Harrison said, and she got to know him while his wife was still alive, and that he was a great neighbor a friend.
“He was an invalid, but a wonderful man and neighbor,” Harrison said. “We had him over for Christmas and Thanksgiving.”
When Bud’s wife died, Dick invited him to move into his spacious home, Harrison said, and they also had a caretaker five days a week.
In Dick Swyhart’s early days, he owned his own equipment and worked a construction worker, Harrison said, but in his later working years, he was ranch keeper for legendary rancher Marie Scott.
Most of Scott’s ranch belongs to designer Ralph Lauren nowadays, but Harrison said Swyhart would regale them with tales from the old days.
“Dick used to come and sit on the patio and drink iced tea and tell us about Marie,” Harrison said. “He was such a wonderful neighbor, and we love them both dearly. And it is a tragic thing.”
Funeral arrangements are incomplete as of Monday, Harrison said.
According to the fire department report, the home, valued at $350,000, was a total loss, as were the contents, valued at $80,000.
The heat source for the blaze was a hot ember or ash, according to the report; the first area to ignite was the “floor covering or rug/carpet/mat.” The cause of the fire was listed as “unintentional.”