Barrow house fire death ‘accidental’

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A coroner has concluded that the death of an elderly woman who died in a severe fire at her Barrow home was accidental.

Mr Michael Singleton, Ribble Valley and Hyndburn Coroner, said Nellie Shaw (84) died as a result of the carbon monoxide fumes created by the fierce blaze at Barrow Gardens Farm in Whalley Road on March 3rd.

Scene of the fatal house fire on Whalley Road in Barrow.

Scene of the fatal house fire on Whalley Road in Barrow.

But Mr Singleton said a precise cause of the fire could not be identified.

The inquest at Clitheroe Coroner’s Court heard from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Investigator Malcolm Dewhurst who said that the seat of the fire was in the lounge but its cause was unknown.

Mr Dewhurst said all usual sources had been investigated and ruled out and that the most likely cause was one of “human behaviour”, most probably Mrs Shaw’s husband Philip, although he admitted that “we are unable to substantiate that hypothesis”.

The inquest heard that Mr Shaw suffers with dementia and Parkinson’s disease and that the couple, retired shop owners, had a carer come into the house twice a day to help with jobs and administering medication.

Nothing is better than to make the family that you love feel loved, right to the very end

Lauren Shaw

The Shaw’s granddaughter, Lauren, giving evidence, said her grandfather had given two different versions of events in the immediate aftermath of the fire and a couple of weeks later could only really remember the fire’s “60ft.” flames.

Miss Shaw had been at the house to check up on her grandparents the night before the blaze.

She told the hearing that her grandparents would light an open fire most days, usually not until after lunch, and that Mr Shaw would put the guard up and make sure the fire was out before going to bed.

William Neil, a Lancashire County Council gritter driver, and Jonathan Greaves, a passer by on his way home from Manchester Airport that night, both gave evidence.

Mr Neil was driving his truck back to the Whalley depot and recalled being able to see flames through the trees as he turned on to Whalley Road.

He got out and remembered being able to see right through to the back of the house and that the fire had “taken over”.

Mr Neil told the inquest he ran round to the back of property and when he came back around, Mr Shaw was coming out of a dark parking area wearing clothes, he had charcoal on him and was carrying a red piece of carpet, later discovered to be that the coal bucket sat on in the lounge.

Mr Neil said Mr Shaw “was a bit confused”. By this time the back door had disintegrated with the flames, he said.

Mr Greaves said he saw “really big flames” thinking it “odd” and at first a “ridiculous time to be having a garden fire” before he realised the house was burning.

He said Mr Shaw appeared “very confused and dithery” and he sat him in his car with it being a cold, snowy night and not knowing how long the emergency services were going to be.

Mr Greaves said both he and Mr Neil tried to find out if anybody was inside but said they could not get a firm answer from Mr Shaw.

Mr Dewhurst told the inquest that the fire service received a call at 5-21am and pumps were on the scene and the severity of the fire assessed by 5-40am.

He told the hearing a two day investigation had concluded that it wasn’t caused by electrical or gas faults and said it was unlikely it was when Mr Shaw had removed the ashtray as it was back in its place. He said the fire guard was in front of the lounge’s open fire at the time the blaze began to develop.

Mr Dewhurst said the theory of ash setting the carpet alight had been tested by using a blowtorch on it for one minute. However, it was such a high quality wool carpet it failed to ignite.

He said that there were three smoke detectors in the property but they were unable to determine whether they were working.

During the hearing, Steven Morgan, Group Manager at Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, urged people who know of vulnerable people within their community and those in receipt of care to approach the fire service for a free fire safety check which can be tailored to suit individual circumstances to reduce the risk of such a disaster occurring again.

After the inquest, Mrs Shaw’s granddaughter Lauren said: “I know that it was a tragic accident and there was nothing to prepare us for what was going to happen but the best advice I could give people is to treasure every moment you have with family and do everything you can to make them happy, even if it demands a lot from you, because then you will have no regrets.

“Nothing is better than to make the family that you love feel loved, right to the very end.”