Open fire was ‘likely’ cause of fatal blaze, inquest hears

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A house fire that killed four children may have been caused when damp logs split on hot coals on an open fire, an inquest has heard.

The four youngsters – nine-year-old Tommy, six-year-old Alisha, Rocco, four, and Appolonia, two – died when a fire engulfed their family home in Hulland Ward, Derbyshire, on January 24.

At an inquest into their deaths, Derby Coroner’s Court yesterday heard evidence that putting wet wood on hot coals can cause the water inside to boil and the wood to split open, meaning burning or hot embers can escape.

Matthew Ramsden, a chimney engineer, told coroner Robert Hunter that moisture tests carried out on wood used at the family home revealed it was over the usual moisture levels.

The children’s mother, Rachel Henson, was present at the inquest and walked from the courtroom in tears as details from post mortem reports for each of the children were read out.

At the time of the blaze she managed to escape from the property in Highfield Road but was unable to get back inside to rescue her children, who were sleeping upstairs.

Neighbours tried to reach them as the fire swept through the house but could not open the front door of the property.

Tommy and Appolonia were carried out of the house by firefighters but could not be saved and died later in hospital.

The bodies of Alisha and Rocco were later found inside the semi-detached house.

They all suffered serious burns and died from the effects of fire due to a house fire, a post mortem found.

The inquest heard evidence from Christopher Smith, a fire investigation officer with Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service, who said examinations of the property after the fire found there were no working smoke or heat detectors in the house.

One battery-powered smoke alarm was found on the first floor landing but tests proved it had no battery fitted.

Two hard-wire smoke alarms had also been disconnected from the mains, along with a heat detector.

Mr Smith said the fire began in the lounge on the ground floor and spread to the bedrooms above, where the children were sleeping.

Ms Henson had only had the open fire for a relatively short time, he said, after changing from a flame-effect gas fire.

Investigators ruled out the possibilities that the fire was started deliberately, that it was due to an electrical fault or had started because of smoking materials.

Mr Smith told the inquest: “The most likely cause of the fire was accidental resulting from the ignition of items around the fire; hot coal or burning log falling from the open fire, or a hot wooden ember being ejected from the fire.”

The hearing was adjourned until today when the coroner will hear evidence from two more witnesses before delivering his ruling.