Discarded cigarette led to woman's death

A DISCARDED cigarette led to the death of a woman from Stevenage, an inquest heard. Anna Hepburn, 50, of York Road, died in September last year when a fire ignited in her bedroom on the first floor of her property. When firefighters arrived they found tha

A DISCARDED cigarette led to the death of a woman from Stevenage, an inquest heard.

Anna Hepburn, 50, of York Road, died in September last year when a fire ignited in her bedroom on the first floor of her property.

When firefighters arrived they found that the bed was severely damaged to the extent that the floor underneath had burnt through.

Edward Hills who was Ms Hepburn's tenant at the time and who was in the house when the fire started, explained how the events unfolded at an inquest at Hatfield Coroner's Court last Thursday (January 10).

He said: "I heard Anna shout my name. She was standing at her bedroom door and her bed was on fire. So I picked up the corner of a rug and tried to extinguish the flames but it produced black smoke."

As Mr Hills fought back tears, coroner Edward Thomas continued to explain the series of events.

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He told the inquest: "Ms Hepburn went into the spare room as Mr Hills called 999.

"Mr Hills told Ms Hepburn to go downstairs but when he went downstairs and went to the back of the house he couldn't see her.

"When he went back upstairs there was a lot of smoke and he could only see light from the television and the window penetrating the smoke.

"The door to the spare room was locked and he could hear Ms Hepburn coughing. She wouldn't open the door and the heat was too much so Mr Hills went downstairs."

Paul Bordoni, a Stevenage fire officer, confirmed that it was known that Ms Hepburn sometimes smoked in her bedroom and that she had damaged her bed clothing in the past.

He said: "When crews turned up at the scene they saw a fire coming from one of the windows and deployed breathing apparatus and firefighting equipment.

"The crew found her in the spare room and immediately brought her out of the house.

"There was light smoke damage in the room where she was and some melting of plastic items in the room.

"There were no electrical items that could have feasibly been the cause of the fire.

"The likely cause of the fire was a discarded cigarette. It could have been a cigarette that wasn't put out properly in an ash tray or Ms Hepburn could have fallen asleep with the cigarette in her hand."

Mr Thomas said the cause of death was fatal inhalation and severe burns.

Mr Bordoni added: "The effects of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide can disorientate and make a person drowsy. High levels can be fatal.

"A smoke alarm could have alerted someone because if they had caught it in the early stages it could have been put out. Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue (HFR) offer free home fire safety checks and smoke alarms to prevent incidents like this from happening."

The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death

He said: "Smoke alarms can make a difference.

"I hope people who haven't got them would get one and HFR are very helpful giving advice and assistance.

"You may think you don't need it but there might come a time when it will save your life."

* If anyone would like to take advantage of a free home fire safety check call 0800 587 3347

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