Dangers of cluttered cupboards and electrical safety highlighted following inquest

An inquest into the death of a pensioner has prompted the fire service to warn people about the dangers of cluttered cupboards and electrical safety. 

At the inquest of 86-year-old John Sparks at Huntingdon Coroner’s Court today, a verdict of accidental was announced, following the incident at his home in High Street, Toft, on November 22 last year. Mr Sparks died of smoke inhalation.

Fire investigators concluded the fire, which was contained inside a cupboard under the stairs, had been burning for a considerable period of time before neighbours called 999. The cupboard was stashed full of belongings and the most likely cause of the fire was a build up of heat from the lightbulb, igniting some of the material.

Station Commander Martin Brown, Fire Investigator, said: “This was a very unfortunate accident caused by a combination of factors, including a cupboard full of possessions that was in contact with old electrical wiring, causing the build up of heat and a fire to start. 

“We are calling on the public to take the maintenance of property electrics very seriously. If you live in an older property and haven’t had your wiring checked for a while, maybe now is the time to call in a professional and get it checked. Don’t forget to also consider the homes of elderly friends and relatives.

“Often properties built in the 1960s-90s had entire electrical intake and fuses located in cupboards under the staircase so it is important people recognise that this area should remain clutter-free. A fire under the stairs can prevent people escaping from the first floor and sometimes even out of the front door in an emergency, so it is integral this area is kept as safe as possible.

“All it takes is something to overheat to cause a fire and if you have a cupboard stuffed full of things it makes the perfect recipe for a fire to burn slowly and fill your house full of poisonous fumes.”

Mr Sparks was sadly one of two elderly men who died in house fires in a 24-hour period. Following these deaths, CFRS identified addresses of 1,000 men, over the age of 90 who are living alone and to date, 300 of these have received home fire safety visits from fire service staff to try and reduce their risk of fire in the home. 

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is encouraging the community to look out for elderly and vulnerable people to help us identify those who may be most at risk.

Martin added: “Mr Sparks was an elderly gentleman who lived alone and spent nearly of all his time in one room. There were numerous electrical plug sockets that were overloaded and multiple electrical heaters being used in a small room. 

“All of these things are key signs to look out for and we’re asking you to be our eyes and ears in the community.”