Deadly Sunderland blaze ‘likely caused by cigarette’

Floral tributes to fire victim Kevin Gray at the scene in Northcote Avenue, Hendon.

Floral tributes to fire victim Kevin Gray at the scene in Northcote Avenue, Hendon.

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A man’s tragic death in a house fire shortly before Christmas was most likely caused by a cigarette which set fire to his bedding, an inquest heard.

Kevin Gray – known as Kev –was found lying in the kitchen doorway of his downstairs flat, in Northcoate Avenue, Hendon, Sunderland, after being overcome by toxic smoke late on December 10.

Floral tributes to fire victim Kevin Gray at the scene in Northcote Avenue, Hendon.

Floral tributes to fire victim Kevin Gray at the scene in Northcote Avenue, Hendon.

Sunderland assistant coroner Karin Welsh heard how just a lung full of smoke is enough to render someone unconscious, while the anaesthetic properties of carbon monoxide meant the 35-year-old is likely to never have realised what was happening to him.

Group manager Mark Gerrard, from Sunderland Central fire station, who investigated the blaze, said the fire in Mr Gray’s bedroom could have started as early as 10pm.

However, it was only discovered when the fumes had spread to such an extent that the smoke alarm went off in the upstairs flat, prompting Mr Gray’s neighbour to call 999 at 11.37pm.

Mr Gray, who smoked cigarettes, was found lifeless inside. He was treated by paramedics, but was pronounced dead at 12.45am on December 11. A post-mortem examination, carried out by Home Office pathologist Dr Jennifer Bolton, established the cause of death as smoke inhalation, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Floral tributes to fire victim Kevin Gray at the scene in Northcote Avenue, Hendon.

Floral tributes to fire victim Kevin Gray at the scene in Northcote Avenue, Hendon.

Her report said the significant amount of smoke would have rendered Mr Gray unconscious in just a short period of time.

Mr Gerrard said the fire was most likely caused by the “accidental or careless disposal of smoking materials”.

“Either Kev wasn’t aware of what was happening or he succumbed very quickly,” Mr Gerrard said.

“There generally isn’t any suffering because of the anaesthetic effects of the carbon monoxide.

“Contrary to what you see on TV or in movies, all it takes is one lung full of smoke and you will drop straight away.”

The inquest heard how Northumbria Police had investigated a number of concerns raised by Mr Gray’s family. However, it found no signs of third-party involvement or suspicious circumstances.

Recording a conclusion of accidental death, Ms Welsh said: “Kev has been overcome by the carbon monoxide which has been produced as a result of that slow-burning fire.

“Kev would have been overcome by that so he wouldn’t have been aware of what was happening to him. I hope this will be of some comfort to his family.”