OGUNQUIT — The carbon monoxide poisoning of 21 people at a local resort last weekend has sparked a flurry of purchases of carbon monoxide detectors and raised concerns about safety.

Ryan Parrish, who works at Aubuchon Hardware in neighboring Wells, pointed to empty racks on a wall where customers had snapped up the least expensive, battery-operated detectors.

“Ever since the whole thing at the inn, people have been coming in, and getting more aware,” said Parrish, who has been trying to answer questions for customers, many of them homeowners, about the best types of carbon monoxide detectors.

He said members of the town’s fire department bought some for elderly residents who might have trouble leaving home to get their own.

The sudden interest was likely triggered by the incident in which 21 guests at InnSeason Resorts – The Falls at Ogunquit were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. Seven required treatment at hospitals.

Guests in one of the resort’s four buildings reported feeling nauseous, getting headaches and passing out. Authorities found that those people had been exposed to carbon monoxide that leaked from a broken pipe intended to vent fumes from a propane furnace.

The exposure started as early as Feb. 22, but the fire department wasn’t called until a desk clerk learned the next day that people in multiple rooms felt sick.

Firefighters found levels of the colorless, odorless gas at nearly 10 times what would have set off a carbon monoxide detector. Guest rooms at the time-share hotel were not equipped with detectors.

State law only requires carbon monoxide detectors in hotels built or renovated since Aug. 1, 2012. The law also requires the detectors in single-family homes that have been sold since 2012, and in all multi-family housing.

PUTTING GUESTS AT EASE

News of last weekend’s incident spread quickly, with people as far away as Puerto Rico and California learning about it, town officials said.

Hotel owners in town said they have fielded phone calls and questions from several guests and potential guests who have asked about the presence of carbon monoxide detectors.

“The customers are asking for it,” said Katy Kelly, manager at the Lafayette Oceanfront Resort on Wells Beach, which is installing the detectors in more rooms.

Current guests and prospective ones making reservations have asked about the detectors, she said. The resort operates free-standing cottages and rooms with fireplaces, in which carbon monoxide detectors are required.

In fact, many hotels are installing them in places where they might not make a lot of sense, just to put customers at ease.

Mitch Ramsey, owner of the 241-room Anchorage Resort, said the hotel has had carbon monoxide detectors in rooms with fireplaces for a long time. It now has plug-in models behind the counter, for the peace of mind of guests who request them.

“Any place that has a fossil fuel burning, we have them in place,” Ramsey said. “We also have them in the (furnace) area.”

Carbon monoxide poisoning can feel like the flu, but without a fever, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Symptoms may include headache, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and loss of consciousness.

A TOPIC FOR SELECTMEN

Salle Morse, owner of Morse Hardware and Lumber in Wells, said the store typically sells one carbon monoxide detector a month, but has sold several in the past week, with many more people asking questions about them.

The prices range from about $20 for a battery-operated detector to $80 for one that plugs into a wall, tests for explosive gases and carbon monoxide and gives a digital read-out of the gas levels when it is set off.

Morse said the new interest in carbon monoxide has prompted people to ask how long the detectors work, how often batteries and other components might have to be replaced, and how often they trigger false alarms. She said the answers vary by model.

Ogunquit Fire Chief Mark O’Brien said he has been getting calls from restaurant and hotel owners who are asking which carbon monoxide detectors he recommends.

Ogunquit has a year-round population of 1,500. On peak summer days, there can be 30,000 people in town, said Town Manager Thomas Fortier. The town has 4,500 rooms for rent.

Selectman John Daley said the dangers of carbon monoxide and the importance of detectors will be a topic of discussion when the board meets on Tuesday.

Although Fortier said this week that he might suggest a town ordinance to require hotels to have carbon monoxide detectors in all guest rooms, the town may stop short of requiring the detectors, since that has been the domain of the Legislature and the state Fire Marshal’s Office, he said, and he has heard from businesses that oppose a local requirement.

“It’s a significant enough issue to address, but at the same time, as local government, we’re not into regulating every single issue that arises,” Fortier said.

A local ordinance could give the town new responsibilities for inspections and enforcement, O’Brien said.

Selectmen may instead issue a proclamation encouraging use of the detectors, Fortier said.

“We’re going to brief the community on the situation because of the magnitude of it,” Fortier said. “You could have had 21 fatalities. . . . People want to know what’s happening.”

BUILDING STILL OFF LIMITS

The level of danger in carbon monoxide poisoning depends on the concentration of the gas and the length of time a person breathes it. The longer the exposure, the more acute the illness and the longer a person must be treated with high concentrations of oxygen, O’Brien said.

The building at the resort in Ogunquit where the leak occurred is still off-limits to guests, but the resort has restarted the furnace to keep the pipes from freezing, O’Brien said.

An inspector with the state’s Oil and Solid Fuels Board approved the use of another furnace, which did not have a leak, and made sure that others at the complex were functioning properly.

The resort has gathered its maintenance records and found that the most recent service call for the furnace where the problem occurred was in December 2012. O’Brien said the required maintenance schedule is determined by the manufacturer.

The furnaces were installed in 2006 after flooding from a storm, he said. That model is no longer produced, he said, although he did not know why.

The resort is gathering estimates on carbon monoxide detectors to present to its board of directors for approval of the purchase, he said.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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Twitter: @Mainehenchman