Family with COVID-19 couldn't smell house fire
January 23, 2021 4:22 PM   Subscribe

 
That's terrifying. The article doesn't mention anything about smoke detectors but if you know anyone who is dealing with covide-related anosmia, please implore them to check that their smoke detectors are working.
posted by NotTheRedBaron at 4:30 PM on January 23 [27 favorites]


epony-burnicle!
posted by lalochezia at 4:50 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Seconding the terrifying.

A friend of mine lost his house in the August fires and that was already horrifying as is, and then throw pandemic in forcing you to have to flee to others to live with, and now on top of that you can't even tell if there's a fire.... good god.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:57 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I haven’t had a sense of smell since I was 12. Fire terrifies me. I neglectfully caused a stove fire when I was a teenager and I only realized when I saw smoke in a sunbeam while in another room.
posted by Ruki at 5:00 PM on January 23 [8 favorites]


She saved three families. Not just one.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 5:10 PM on January 23 [12 favorites]


And four dogs!
posted by NotTheRedBaron at 5:12 PM on January 23 [9 favorites]


There's a lot to unpack in that story. Potentially 10 people (and four dogs) live in that house, and her parents were at work at 2:30am. That's a lot to deal with even before the fire.
posted by krisjohn at 5:20 PM on January 23 [40 favorites]


I believe this story, and I don’t know whether this even would put it in doubt, but I read recently that the smell of smoke uses a different nerve pathway from receptors into the brain than most other smells do, and can be spared when Covid-19 is blocking the others.
posted by jamjam at 6:29 PM on January 23


looks like there is a GoFundMe, if anyone feels like helping 'em out. they haven't hit their modest goal, yet. i dunno if it's OK to post a link, so i won't - but i found it very easily by googling.
posted by lapolla at 6:41 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I seem to remember reading some pieces in August and September when so many western states were deluged with wildfires that people were going out and acting normal on days when the air was really bad smelling because they couldn't smell it. They were relying on visual cues but when they weren't present they assumed it was fine to breathe easy.
posted by potrzebie at 6:45 PM on January 23


Here is version of what I was talking about:
To test the olfactory nerve, the patient is asked to identify certain substances by smelling through one nostril while the examiner compresses the other nostril. Testing must be done with readily identifiable and odoriferous but innocuous substances, such as coffee. Volatile and irritative substances, such as ammonia and alcohol, are not suitable because they may trigger intranasal trigeminal nerve receptors and bypass a possibly damaged olfactory nerve. For detailed testing, physicians might use a commercial set of “scratch and sniff” odors. [my emphasis]
As I was googling for it, I saw numerous snippets saying that some Covid sufferers smelled cigarette smoke continually and not much else.
posted by jamjam at 8:17 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


I donated to the (a?) GoFundMe, mostly for the reasons that krisjohn points out. Maybe getting that funded will be one point of relief in a very hard year.

Does the bad smell we put in propane tanks also need updating due to COVID, or is that a different pathway?
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:43 PM on January 23


"Does the bad smell we put in propane tanks also need updating due to COVID, or is that a different pathway?"

Ooh, what about natural gas? Have there been recent cases of people dying from natural gas leaks because they can't smell the odor additive?
posted by NotTheRedBaron at 9:46 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


In the pre-covid era, my grandma permanently lost her sense of smell, I forget why. One day, she left the gas burner on and did not smell the whole house filling with gas. Then my grandpa got home, smelled the problem, and disaster was averted.
posted by aniola at 9:49 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


This is basically Providence deciding to take a dump on you. Nobody deserves that. How much more could go wrong for these poor folks? I sent them a C-note via GoFundMe...
posted by jim in austin at 10:29 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


In the pre-covid era, my grandma permanently lost her sense of smell, I forget why. One day, she left the gas burner on and did not smell the whole house filling with gas. Then my grandpa got home, smelled the problem, and disaster was averted.
posted by aniola at 1:49 PM on January 24 [+] [!]


Electrification of cooking appliances really cannot happen fast enough. I've recently switched back to gas, and I've left the burner open enough times to make me paranoid. I still have my sense of smell, but the kitchen is across the house, and by the time I smell it, yikes.
posted by saysthis at 11:24 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


and I've left the burner open enough times to make me paranoid. I still have my sense of smell, but the kitchen is across the house, and by the time I smell it, yikes.
That's not a gas problem, that's a missing thermocouple problem.
posted by krisjohn at 4:32 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


A lot of people lose their sense of smell when they're asleep anyway, e.g. see here. (checks smoke alarms - pass)
posted by StephenB at 5:04 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


Anosmia and parosmia are finally getting some attention due to COVID symptoms. I had anosmia once from 2013-15 but my sense of smell and taste returned after almost two years to the day. I underwent psychotherapy and there were unconscious complexes involved. Then just for the fun of it, I lost my sense of smell and taste once more in December 2019 due to an ear infection. If I didn't love to cook, enjoy food and drink wine, I don't think it would be affecting me so deeply. From the first bout I learned that the amygdala controls emotional streams, memory and the sense of smell and taste. It is very disturbing and my heart goes out to those who have lost these senses due to COVID, sinus infections or traumatic injuries to the nose.
posted by DJZouke at 5:34 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


My sense of smell/taste has been badly off or absent since I had a sort of fluish infection with cough and fever last March, and I am still not sure if that was Covid, or if it's related to a family history of anosmia on my mother's side. She lost her sense of smell (claiming only to be able to smell expensive perfume) at about my age (67), one of her sisters never had any sense of smell and another sister claimed to have lost hers in the Liverpool blitz. One aunt did suffer a similar near-disaster to aniola's grandma, with a gas leak that was only detected by a visitor, and this terrifies me. I am now very paranoid indeed about checking the cooker and boiler.

I can still smell burning, sort of, but a lot of things now smell like burning onion to me, including unburned gas, coffee, toast and any strong bad smells like rotting meat or a nastily blocked drain.
posted by Fuchsoid at 5:59 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


Here is their GoFundMe. In a search I found quite a number of Rivera families who have had house fires. This many people in one home is a prime example of precariousness in housing. Folks in my neck of the woods where housing costs have skyrocketed have been confused about exactly how that contributes to homelessness but they don't seem to realize how tenuous some people's hold on their housing actually is. I hope state agencies and the Red Cross are helping a lot. I note in the article that they lost equipment for their lawn care business.
posted by amanda at 12:42 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


That's not a gas problem, that's a missing thermocouple problem.
While I prefer cooking on gas stoves, I have never seen one that has a thermocouple (unlike gas water heaters, furnaces, and the like) interlock on the burner gas supply.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 5:08 PM on January 24


Oh wow, that's terrifying. So glad she was able to save all those people (and animals!).

When I had COVID, I accidentally burnt some popcorn in the microwave and didn't notice anything until I saw the smoke. I never really thought of the sense of smell as protective until then. So scary.
posted by mouse noises at 5:12 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


That's not a gas problem, that's a missing thermocouple problem.

Ah! This explains why my gas burners need to be held on "ignite" for a few seconds before they stay on. If you just let the knob go as soon as it lights they go out again. Must be the thermocouple needing a moment to heat up.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:21 AM on January 25


I read recently that the smell of smoke uses a different nerve pathway from receptors into the brain than most other smells do, and can be spared when Covid-19 is blocking the others.

Someone I know has anosmia, and he can detect smoke as well some chemicals like alcohol. A psychologist who has done a lot of work on senses told him that these sensations are detected differently than other smells.
posted by jb at 8:47 AM on January 25


That said, it may be that COVID affects this other pathway - also, his anosmia may not be complete. (It's from birth/early childhood, and has never been investigated).
posted by jb at 8:48 AM on January 25


Someone I know has anosmia, and he can detect smoke as well some chemicals like alcohol. A psychologist who has done a lot of work on senses told him that these sensations are detected differently than other smells.

My sister has it, and has since birth (I guess -she's not sure). She says she can smell certain things via taste buds in her mouth, like smoke.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:05 AM on January 25


While I prefer cooking on gas stoves, I have never seen one that has a thermocouple
That's strange, because I haven't seen one that doesn't.

We have a gas/gas stove (not just a gas cooktop, but a gas oven too). If the heat doesn't come on, the gas is cut off. If there's a problem with the spark (like during a power outage), you can light the cooktop with a match, but you have to be holding down the dial to force the gas out as if you're trying to ignite it with the spark or there's no gas. In fact, if you just turn the dials while it's cold without pressing them in to ignite, nothing happens.

Our stove is significantly less likely to be the cause of a house fire than, say, a laptop battery giving up.
posted by krisjohn at 2:16 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


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