Blaze victim’s clothes melted

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A PENSIONER died from massive burns during a blaze at his flat, an inquest was told.

Investigations showed Derek Slee’s cardigan caught fire when clothing, hung on a door of his bedroom, melted and stuck to his right shoulder.

An inquest into his death was told the 76-year-old, who had lost his sense of smell, could have been alerted to the fire behind the door by a smoke alarm.

It is thought that after brushing passed the melting clothes, he moved into the sitting room, where firefighters found him on the floor next to the burning sofa.

The crew, called to the scene by neighbours in North Haven, Seaham, battled against heat and black acrid smoke to rescue Mr Slee.

They struggled to get him out of the room because part of his cardigan had melted into the rug he had been lying on, but he was conscious and coughing.

He was taken to Sunderland Royal and transferred to the Intensive Care Unit at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary a short time later.

Mr Slee was treated at its specialist burns unit, but he died a week after the November 3 fire.

No post mortem examination was carried out, but a report by the unit’s Dr Anna Batchelor stated the father-of-three suffered 37 per cent deep burns, with injuries caused to his head, back, arms and hands.

His airways were also swollen and he sustained smoke inhalation injuries.

Lee Asprey, fire investigations manager for County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, said inquiries were unable to confirm the true cause of the fire.

The remains of a heater drier, plugged in but switched off, were found behind the door.

Wires from the same double plug were highlighted as another potential source of the blaze.

Mr Asprey said he was satisfied the fire was caused by “one or more of these electrical appliances”.

The hearing, held at Newcastle Civic Centre, also heard a suggestion Mr Slee, a smoker, could have dropped a cigarette, although the fire would have burnt any evidence.

Mr Asprey added the fire service had previously been called to the flat six times because of kitchen fires caused by burning food, with several areas of the flat damaged by cigarettes left burning on surfaces.

Gillian Slee, Mr Slee’s daughter, told coroner David Mitford her father had spoke to his neighbour on the phone earlier in the night as they watched a boxing match and a football game on the television.

Although his health had deteriorated, he was still independent and got out and about to walk his dog, Pep, who also died in the fire.

Verdict: accidental.