Harrow Court: Death flat temperatures reached 800C

A fireball turned the temperature inside the death flat in Harrow Court to 800C an inquest heard today. Investigators believe the blast of heat led to the deaths of Stevenage firefighters Jeff Wornham, 28, and Michael Miller, 26, when the inferno swept th

A fireball turned the temperature inside the death flat in Harrow Court to 800C an inquest heard today.

Investigators believe the blast of heat led to the deaths of Stevenage firefighters Jeff Wornham, 28, and Michael Miller, 26, when the inferno swept through flat 85 at Harrow Court in the early hours of February 2, 2005.

The men were trying to get to Natalie Close, 35, who lived in the flat with her boyfriend Nicholas Savage and who died.

Mr Savage had managed to stagger out of the flat alive but, the inquest heard, Ms Close was probably already dead by the time Mr Miller managed to fight his way through the heat and smoke to her bedroom before he collapsed and died.


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The inquest also heard that batteries to the three hand held radios used by the two firefighters were in a poor condition after water had contaminated them, while the battery operated distress signal unit belonging to Mr Wornham was flat.

Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service divisional officer Robert Stevenson, who helped carry out the investigation into the tragedy, told the inquest it was like having a jigsaw but with a few bits missing.

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"It has been a big challenge," he told Hertfordshire Coroner Mr Edward Thomas.

"After experiments were carried out by the Building and Research Establishment we concluded the fire was started by tea lights being placed on top of the TV without any cover or protection.

"We scrupulously sifted through every bit of evidence in the flat and concluded the couple were in bed asleep with two tea lights on the TV, which was on a chair near the wardrobe.

"Mr Savage said he was woken up by popping with a tea light burning abnormally and getting bigger in front of his eyes."

Mr Stevenson said Mr Savage had left the bedroom to get a tea towel to put on the flames but was prevented from getting back to the bedroom by the heat, which investigators believe was then 100C.

Within seconds of Mr Miller and Mr Wornham forcing their way into the flat the heat soared to 800C and both men, despite their efforts, collapsed, Mr Miller in the bedroom near Ms Close, and Mr Wornham in the lobby just outside the flat.

Mr Stevenson added: "It was very, very severe heat indeed. They were hit by a blast of heat. Mr Wornham was attempting to rescue Ms Close but we believe she would have been dead at this time."

Assistant chief fire officer Roger Day said Harrow Court met all fire regulations and firefighters from Stevenage had attended eight false alarms there during the previous three months.

He said padlocking the dry riser units because of vandalism was acceptable because they could still be opened with fire service cutting equipment.

But he criticised poor facilities to secure cabling in the ceiling that disintegrated in the heat sending it crashing on to the body of Mr Wornham.

"Jeff was found in the lobby by firefighters from Baldock who released him using their knives then pulled him through a rear door and used axes to free him from the cables," said Mr Day.

"The cables had fallen from the ducting which was made of plastic and of course melted in the heat. It was not secured to prevent it falling."

With reference to the radios Mr Day added: "Jeff's radios transmission was low and would have been very quiet.

"They both had breathing apparatus on when they died but their equipment was not designed to withstand the heat they faced."

The inquest is expected to last until the end of the week when the jury will deliver its verdict.

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