Doncaster blaze victim accidentally started fatal fire with cigarette lighter

A terminally ill, bed-ridden man accidentally started a fatal house fire with his cigarette lighter, an inquest heard.

Tuesday, 15th March 2016, 9:01 am
Updated Tuesday, 15th March 2016, 9:06 am
The scene in Pinfold Close, Tickhill following the fire.
The scene in Pinfold Close, Tickhill following the fire.

Ian Jennings, aged 64, died in the tragic blaze at his home in Pinfold Close, Tickhill, in October last year.

His wife Ethel – who is known as Olive – managed to find her way through ‘clouds of smoke’ to escape.

Doncaster Coroners’ Court heard Mr Jennings had been rendered immobile after battling chronic conditions relating to alcoholism including liver disease and alcoholic neuropathy.

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The inquest heard he was ‘known to smoke in bed.’ Before the fatal fire on October 17, Olive had left food and made her husband some roll-up cigarettes, which she left at the side of his bed.

Mr Jennings was sleeping on a hospital air bed in the front room of their bungalow due to his condition.

After leaving him for the night, Mrs Jennings went to watch television in her bedroom, where she fell asleep.

At around 9.30pm she awoke, got up and went into the corridor where she saw ‘clouds of smoke’ coming from the living room.

“I ran into the living room and all of that side of the room was on fire,” Mrs Jennings, a former nurse, told the inquest.

“I don’t know if it was the best thing to do but I ran and got a basin of water and threw it on the fire but it didn’t make any difference.

“I ran outside and to my neighbour’s house for help.

“When I went to go back in I couldn’t because the flames were that high.”

The fire service arrived on the scene at 9.41pm – eight minutes after the alarm had been raised – and began to tackle the blaze, which had spread ‘rapidly’.

The intensity of the fire had led to the three windows in the living room ‘exploding’ before the fire service arrived.

Mr Jennings was pronounced dead at the scene.

Fire investigation officer Graham Toms, told Doncaster Coroners’ Court there were a number of flammable items surrounding Mr Jennings’ bedside that are likely to have caused the fire to spread quickly including tissues, his bedding, which was not flame-retardant, a number of CDs and his hospital air bed.

Mr Toms said: “The mattress of the air bed itself was flame retardant. But once that had been punctured because of the way it pumps air, it would have acted almost like a furnace.

“We believed that the fire was most likely caused by a naked flame, probably from his lighter, that either caught the bedding or his chest.”

Mr Toms said the property did not have a working fire alarm at the time.

Mrs Jennings said at the hearing that in spite of her husband’s terminal condition she did not believe he would have started the fire deliberately because he would not have wanted to put her or their pet dog at risk.

Senior Coroner, Nicola Mundy, delivered a conclusion of ‘accidental death’ and passed her condolences to Mr Jennings’ family.

After the inquest, Mr Toms, said: “This was a severe house fire which tragically resulted in Mr Jennings losing his life and our thoughts are with his family at what remains a very sad time.

“The incident is also another, terrible reminder of the dangers associated with smoking in bed. We found no evidence of working smoke alarms in the property. Whilst we will never know whether smoke alarms would have made a difference at this incident, smoke alarms do give you vital extra seconds to escape by giving you an early warning of a fire in your home.

“Please, please make sure you have smoke alarms on every level of your home and to test them regularly.”