Fireplace warning following death of pensioner

Fire officers are warning homeowners with open fires to take simple safety steps following the death of a Cambridgeshire pensioner.

A fire started in the home of Berenice Setchell after the 83-year-old left clothing and a wicker stool too close to an unguarded open fire, causing a fire to start. 

Today (April 28), at the inquest of Mrs Setchell, of Star Lane, Ramsey, the coroner highlighted the victim died of smoke inhalation and concluded her death on January 19, 2016, was accidental.

Fire investigator, Station Commander Karl Bowden explained the fire started by radiated heat or an ember igniting nearby clothing or wicker stool, which quickly spread to furniture in the room.

SC Bowden said: “This was a tragic death of an elderly lady who was a creature of habit; she had been lighting open fires in her house for many years and never had a problem. However, on this cold day an accident did happen that sadly resulted in her losing her life.

“If you have an open fire burning any type of material, always make sure a fireguard is in place and most importantly, never dry clothing close to the fire. It is imperative to also avoid storing combustible materials like piles of wood, buckets of coal or newspapers close to a fire.”

The fire was intense, spread rapidly and was mainly contained to the living room in which it originated. Half of the room was totally destroyed by the fire, which was intensified owing to flammable older furniture in the room, including two chairs.

SC Bowden added: “Although this property has a working smoke alarm on the first floor, we recommend residents fit one on each floor of their property and test them regularly. 

“We think Mrs Setchell left the room and possibly went outside, heard the alarm or smelt smoke and then went back inside to investigate. It takes just three breaths of toxic smoke to render someone unconscious, so it is important to remember if you ever suspect a fire in your home that you get out, stay out and dial 999 immediately.”

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service works with partner agencies to identify vulnerable or elderly residents who could be at greater risk of fire. It is asking residents to help by becoming the eyes and ears of the community.

If you know someone who is vulnerable or who you think could benefit from a free visit from the fire service, call 0800 917 9999 or apply for a home fire safety check online through our partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council here.