A year after 7 Minnesota deaths, a reminder of the threat of carbon monoxide

"A whole family, gone," said Klobuchar, who was joined in Thursday's news conference by Cheryl Burt, a Rochester mother who lost two sons to carbon monoxide poisoning in January 1996.

moorhead family photo
The Hernandez-Pinto family.
Photo via Facebook
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MOORHEAD, Minn. — A year ago this month, carbon monoxide killed seven members of a Moorhead family.

On Thursday, Dec. 8, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., held an online news conference to trumpet the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and she cited the Moorhead deaths as a reminder of how deadly this time of year can be for people living in cold climates.

"A whole family, gone," said Klobuchar, who was joined in the news conference by fire officials from around Minnesota, as well as Cheryl Burt, a mother who lost two sons to carbon monoxide poisoning in January 1996.

Burt and her family had moved into an older home in Rochester, Minnesota, and because of cold weather were running the furnace and fireplace for warmth.

Burt recalled Thursday how she and family members began feeling ill, but didn't realize they were being poisoned by carbon monoxide leaking from a faulty furnace until it was too late and they all fell unconscious.


By the time she and her husband could rouse themselves enough to realize what was happening, two of their three sons were dead.

Burt said she is still haunted by a shopping trip she made before her sons died.

There was a moment, she said, when she was standing in a store and debating with herself whether to buy a carbon monoxide detector that she noticed in a store display, or a Tonka toy truck one of her sons had been begging for.

By that point in the holiday season Burt said she had already purchased many gifts, but because her son was so keen on the truck, that is what she ended up buying.

"To this day I have that truck. I do not have my son," said Burt, who lauded Klobuchar's efforts to bring attention to the threat of carbon monoxide, including a bill Klobuchar and fellow Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., were able to get passed earlier this year.

Cheryl Burt speaks at an online news conference on Thursday, Dec. 8, that focused on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Two of Burt's sons died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1996.
David Olson/The Forum

The legislation, named the Nicholas and Zachary Burt Memorial Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Act in honor of Burt's sons, aims to help states adopt tougher standards to ensure carbon monoxide detectors are safe and reliable.

The legislation also authorizes the Consumer Protection Safety Commission to provide resources to states to encourage the use of CO detectors and it establishes a federal grant program to help states set up prevention education and awareness programs.

Klobuchar commended Burt on her efforts to help get the legislation passed, stating, "It wouldn't have happened without you."


In the Moorhead incident, seven members of the Hernandez-Pinto family were found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in a south Moorhead home on Dec. 18, 2021 .

Moorhead Assistant Fire Marshal Chad Stangeland, who attended Thursday's news conference, said officials believe the family's home once had a dual sensor that could detect both smoke and carbon monoxide, but at some point that detector was taken down and replaced with only a smoke detector.

Stangeland said one of the jobs fire officials have is educating people about the types of sensors that are available and making sure people do not become complacent about replacing batteries or sensors when they become old.

More than 400 people die from inhaling carbon monoxide each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The colorless, odorless gas is a byproduct of combustion and is often introduced into homes by improperly ventilated furnaces and water heaters, portable generators, wood fires and vehicles running in attached garages.

The state of Minnesota requires every single-family dwelling and every unit in a multi-family dwelling to have a carbon monoxide detector within 10 feet of each room used for sleeping.

Klobuchar provided a number of tips Thursday to minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Check or change the batteries in your detector every six months and if you don't have one, buy one.
  • Never run a car, generator or any gasoline powered engine inside any enclosed structure, even if the structure's doors or windows are open.
  • If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911 or a health care professional right away.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include a dull headache, dizziness, nausea and confusion.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at
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