A FATHER who died in a horrific house blaze may have been smoking in bed, an inquest heard.
Michael Wilkinson’s body was discovered in the bedroom of his mid-terraced home, in Millfield, after the blaze in May.
An inquest into his death was told that lighters and an ashtray were found next to the 46-year-old’s bed.
Group manager John Allison, from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, told the hearing at Doxford Park that the cottage in Washington Street was not fitted with smoke alarms.
“Discussions with the family led us to discover that Mr Wilkinson was known to smoke in bed and had a small fire in the bedroom some weeks previously, which was self-extinguished.
“We also found signs of smoking in bed.
“Next to the bed we did find an ashtray with cigarette ends and several disposable lighters and one non-disposable lighter.
“These were all in the area where we thought the deepest area of burning was.
“There had been smoke detector in the vicinity, but there was no evidence of that on the night.
“We spoke to the letting agent and they confirmed that the premises were last refurbished in 2008 and there was one there then, but there was no evidence of one on the night.
“He had in the past taken smoke detectors down because he did not like them going off.”
Mr Allison added: “The chances of survival in a fire vastly increase if you have a smoke alarm in the premises.”
Praise was given to Mr Wilkinson’s son Scott, who led his mother and younger brother to safety from the inferno, rang 999 and briefed firefighters.
Sunderland Coroner Derek Winter said the then 17-year-old showed “valiant efforts to deal with a very difficult circumstance”.
Pathologist Dr Jennifer Hamilton confirmed Mr Wilkinson died from smoke inhalation.
Toxicology tests showed an alcohol level of about three-and-a-half times the legal drink-drive limit, which Dr Hamilton said could have affected his reactions to the blaze.
After the hearing, a spokeswoman for the fire service said: “Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is committed reducing the risk of fire in households most at risk.
“Firefighters will visit your home and offer free advice on fire safety, tailored specifically to your needs and, where necessary, will fit free smoke alarms.
“For more information go to www.twfire.gov.uk or call 0800 0327777, quoting reference SE1.”