Discarded cigarette caused tragic fire

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 12 2010 FIRE DEATHS'A Police Community Support Officer lays public tributes to the three children who died in a house fire in Clarence Avenue, Bridlington yesterday morning. Picture: Terry Carrott

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 12 2010 FIRE DEATHS'A Police Community Support Officer lays public tributes to the three children who died in a house fire in Clarence Avenue, Bridlington yesterday morning. Picture: Terry Carrott

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A DISCARDED cigarette was the most likely cause of the blaze which killed three children in their Bridlington home, an inquest into their deaths has been told.

William, nine, AJ, five, and Maddie, three, died of smoke inhalation from the fire which began at their home at 18 Clarence Avenue on November 11 last year. There were no burns to their bodies.

Their mother Samantha Hudson, 28, was left with brain damage and is still staying in a rehabilitation centre in Goole.

Coroner Geoffrey Saul returned a verdict of accidental death at the inquest, held over two days at Hull Coroner’s Court last Wednesday and Thursday.

The inquest heard evidence from firefighters, police officers, ambulance staff and witnesses who pieced together the events leading up to the fire at the four-bedroom, mid-terrace house.

The court heard Samantha had been drinking for around eleven hours on the day of the fire.

Steve Henry, forensic investigation officer for Humberside Fire Service, told the inquest he had investigated every possible cause of the fire, and had ruled out all but a discarded cigarette.

He believed it had dropped into a pile of clothes, possibly the children’s school uniforms, close to the armchair Samantha was leaning against.

This armchair was at the left hand side of the bay window in the living room – the most likely origin of the fire.

The cigarette smouldered before catching fire, which quickly spread to curtains and a television set and cabinet.

Mr Henry told the inquest: “I concluded that a carelessly discarded cigarette was the most likely cause of the fire.

“I believe that Samantha could still have been sat in the living room, possibly asleep.

“She was woken by the fire or smoke alarm and went upstairs to aid her children.

“She gathered her children on the second floor bedroom. It was in this room that the firefighters found the family huddled together.”

They had been trapped there as the window in the second floor bedroom was locked, and fire investigators did not find any sign of a key.

Investigators indicated that the fire could have smouldered for up to 20 minutes before igniting.

Det Sgt Steve Shanks of Humberside Police ruled out the idea the fire could have been started deliberately.

Coroner Mr Saul said: “The loss of these three very young children can only be described as tragic.

“It is a word often used but it is a word which can only be used in these circumstances.

“These are often very difficult occasions and the evidence can be harrowing. All I can offer is my own condolences to you for the very tragic loss of three young lives.”

DRINKING

The inquest was told that on the day of the fire, Samantha had joined family for her sister Hayley’s birthday at around 12.30pm, and began drinking lager.

At around 6pm she left the party and visited the Utopia pub and the Corner Bar with her friend Peter Walton.

After leaving the Corner Bar Samantha went with Peter to the Co-op supermarket and bought two crates of lager, a bottle of rum and a bottle of green spirits and returned to Hayley’s house.

Later, she visited friends from West Yorkshire, who were at a flat on Neptune Street in the town. Here she met David Hall and other friends, and shared a drink with them.

Samantha’s brother Mark Hudson had taken care of the three children, who were sleeping soundly at Samantha’s house in Clarence Avenue, and looked after them until she returned home at around 11pm with David Hall.

Each had a can of lager and a shot of black vodka, and smoked a hand rolled cigarette, using an empty salsa dip jar, a tea saucer and an empty lager can as an ashtray.

Mr Hall told the inquest that Samantha had been drinking, but “had seemed merry and tipsy, not overly drunk”.

Mr Hall left at around 11.15pm before Mark Hudson, who left between 11.20pm and 11.25pm.

It is between this time and 11.52pm – when Humberside Fire Service received the first emergency call from a neighbour – that the house caught fire.

SHOUTING

Next door neighbour Susan Smith told the inquest she had heard a smoke detector, shouting and a noise like furniture being thrown down the stairs from Samantha’s house, just before midnight.

When fire crews arrived, the large bay window of the lounge had already smashed.

Three fire engines attended the scene, parking at the end of Clarence Avenue due to parked cars making the road too narrow to get down.

The first crew tried to beat back the flames with hoses, before being told that it was likely Samantha and the children were trapped in the house.

Crews systematically searched the house from top to bottom and found Samantha and the children huddled in AJ’s bedroom on the second floor.

Firefighters Nathan Clay and Andy Temple discovered the family, moving an overturned wardrobe out of the way and retrieving Samantha and Maddie.

Other firefighters took Samantha and Maddie from them, and firefighters Clay and Temple returned to the second floor bedroom within seconds to retrieve AJ and William.

All four were taken out on to the street where firefighters, paramedics and off-duty nurse and neighbour Lesley Salisbury began attempts at resuscitation.

Paramedic Simon Leeson was the first paramedic to arrive, in an ambulance from Bridlington, at 11.58pm.

He called for two further ambulances after initially receiving information there would be only three casualties at the scene.

Despite renewed attempts at resuscitation when all four members of the family were brought outside, the three children showed no signs of life.

Samantha was the only one of the four who had a pulse, and Mr Leeson confirmed he took the decision to send her first to Scarborough Hospital, as she “had the best chance of survival”.

BACK TO LIFE

At the inquest, Samantha’s mother Sharon Hudson had to be comforted after breaking down in tears while questioning Mr Leeson’s decision to bring Samantha back to life.

Mrs Hudson asked: “The question the whole family are asking is how long was she starved of oxygen? How long did she go without oxygen for?

“She will never be Samantha again. It just seems to me Samantha should never have been brought back.”

A tearful Mr Leeson responded: “I’m so sorry, but I cannot answer that question.”

William, AJ and Maddie did not recover a pulse and showed no signs of life.

They were pronounced dead upon arrival at Scarborough Hospital.