‘Fireball’ engulfed tragic pensioner

Betjeman Close: the scene of the fire tragedy. SG250815-109TW
Betjeman Close: the scene of the fire tragedy. SG250815-109TW

A pensioner died from 70-80 per cent burns after he was “consumed in a fireball” as he lit a blow torch style weed killer tool.

Francis Dunlop (86), known as Frank, spilled gas onto his clothing while fitting the canister onto the Kill Weed in his garage, an inquest heard.

At this point Mr Dunlop was consumed in a fireball which engulfed his person.

Deputy divisional fire commander Ian Woods

Mr Dunlop couldn’t get the tool’s built-in ignition system to work and, while gas was still escaping, he went off to fetch a hand-held lighter and returned to light the Kill Weed and set himself on fire.

Neighbour Philip Rosser heard Mr Dunlop shout for his wife, Jess, and started to walk to their house in Betjeman Close, Bourne, and broke into a run when he heard a second shout.

In a statement read to the inquest, Mr Rosser described seeing Mr Dunlop with “flames coming from his back and smoke from other parts of his body”.

He grabbed a towel but couldn’t get close enough to smother the flames, and then Mr Dunlop told him there was a hosepipe at the side of the house. Mr Rosser used the hosepipe to extinguish the flames.

The incident happened at midday on June 15 last year and Mr Dunlop died later that day in Peterborough City Hospital.

Medical staff described Mr Dunlop’s burns as “unsurvivable”.

Ian Woods, a deputy divisional commander with Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue, said gas would have been released onto Mr Dunlop’s clothing while he was in the garage and when he used the hand-held lighter to light the weed killer tool, his clothing would have ignited.

“At this point Mr Dunlop was consumed in a fireball which engulfed his person,” said Mr Woods.

The fire officer said there were clear instructions on the tool that canisters should be changed outdoors and a warning that a small amount of gas would be released during the fitting.

He said a fire service watch manager attended the incident as a medical first responder and found gas still escaping from the canister.

Mr Woods said the tragedy happened as a result of human error, and not a fault with the tool, and Coroner Paul Cooper concluded Mr Dunlop’s death was due to misadventure.

Jonathan Thomas, an independent fire investigator for 18 years, also gave evidence to the inquest.

He said the manufacturer’s instructions for the Kill Weed said the gas canisters should be fitted in well ventilated areas and away from any source of ignition.

Mr Thomas said: “There may have been an extended period when gas was flowing from the burner head before he attempted to light it with the cigarette lighter.”

• Mr Dunlop’s family, wife Jess, son Nigel and daughter Joanne, attended the hearing. Also present was solicitor Robert Starr, representing Coopers of Stortford, who voluntarily contacted customers, recalling the Kill Weed product, after Mr Dunlop’s tragic death.