Refilling lighter may have led to fatal flat blaze

111799_NICKLEBY_HOUSE_16/05/11''Emergency services tackle a fatal fire on the ninth floor of Nickleby House, Buckland, Portsmouth. ' 'Picture: Allan Hutchings (111799-415)
111799_NICKLEBY_HOUSE_16/05/11''Emergency services tackle a fatal fire on the ninth floor of Nickleby House, Buckland, Portsmouth. ' 'Picture: Allan Hutchings (111799-415)
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AN ELDERLY disabled man who died in a flat fire may have caused the blaze while struggling to refill a lighter, an inquest heard.

Martin Smith, 71, was found dead in his smoke-filled ninth-floor flat by firefighters on May 16.

111799_NICKLEBY_HOUSE_16/05/11''Emergency services tackle a fatal fire on the ninth floor of Nickleby House, Buckland, Portsmouth. ' 'Picture: Allan Hutchings (111799-425)

111799_NICKLEBY_HOUSE_16/05/11''Emergency services tackle a fatal fire on the ninth floor of Nickleby House, Buckland, Portsmouth. ' 'Picture: Allan Hutchings (111799-425)

Det Sgt Fiona Holland of Portsmouth CID told the inquest at Portsmouth Guildhall how Linda Bradford from Careline received a call from a distressed man, believed to be Mr Smith, saying he was ‘on fire’ at 5.16pm that day.

Several calls were made to the emergency services by frantic residents of Nickleby House in All Saints Road, Portsmouth, as the fire took hold.

But Mr Smith had already died by the time firefighters entered the property. Two residents had tried to force their way in to the flat.

Coroner David Horsley said Mr Smith was in poor health and spent most of the time on his sofa after previously suffering strokes and a broken hip.

Mr Horsley said carer Rodolph Dobrowski, from agency Caring for You, visited Mr Smith twice before the fire and told him to be careful when smoking after noticing burn marks on his sofa.

Jodie Smith, Mr Smith’s daughter, was present at the hearing and said her father regularly smoked and required help refilling his lighters.

Watch manager Andrew Earl, from Hampshire Fire and Rescue, said two containers of lighter fluid and five Zippo lighters were recovered from Mr Smith’s home.

He said: ‘The cause of the fire was most likely an accident.

‘A discarded cigarette or a flame from a lighter could have reacted with textile material due to spilt lighter fluid.

‘One of the lighters was in an open position and found under his body, and one was in a dismantled form.

‘I do believe he was trying to refill one of the lighters.’

He added no other possible ignition sources were discovered and all electrical sockets were switched off in the flat.

Reading a letter from Mr Smith’s GP, the coroner said he had a weak left arm after suffering debilitating strokes in 2001 and 2003, leaving him ‘practically housebound.’

Mr Horsley said he was satisfied Mr Smith died due to an accident and said pathologist Brett Lockyer found small traces of chemical hyboxia haemoglobin in his lungs, which led to shock.

Addressing Mr Smith’s family, Mr Horsley said: ‘Your father hasn’t done this deliberately.

‘He was trying to fill a lighter or light a cigarette.

‘His death would have been instantaneous and he would not have suffered greatly.’