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Fatal house fire in Bourne likely to have been caused by cigarette

The cause of a house fire in Bourne which killed a 52-year-old woman was most likely her smoking materials.

Frail Catherine Elizabeth Smith George – described as a popular member of the community - died in the front room of her home in Recreation Road on April 12. It’s believed either the fire started when she was lighting a cigarette or she fell asleep on the sofa while smoking.

Neighbours made brave attempts to save her but the intensity of the blaze thwarted them.

Cath George(21475922)
Cath George(21475922)

A resumed inquest hearing at Boston Coroner’s Court on Tuesday was told that divorced Mrs George, who lived alone in the three-bed semi, suffered from poor mobility and would often drink a couple of bottles of wine a day.

On the day of the fire she had missed a lunchtime appointment with Addaction to discuss her drink problem. It was this which triggered a 999 call and paramedics attended Mrs George’s home a couple of hours before the fire started. A neighbour reported that Mrs George had suffered a fall on the drive but Mrs George denied this and paramedics noted that, other than being intoxicated, she appeared well.

Less than an hour after they left, Mrs George, a former self-employed cleaner who no longer worked due to health problems, was found in her burning front room by another neighbour and close friend, Leslie Clay.

Police outside the house. (21482809)
Police outside the house. (21482809)

In written evidence to the inquest, he said he had gone to check on Mrs George at about 8.30pm, having seen her earlier in the day and noticed that she had been drinking.

“As I got within six yards I could see some flames though the front window and through the glass panels of the front door. I had a dreadful feeling,” he said.

He went in and found Mrs George on the floor, with the sofa in flames and a moving mass of smoke on the ceiling.

“I was scared and panicked. I’ve never seen anything like it and called out ‘Catherine, what the hell have you done?’”

The scene of the tragedy. (21482811)
The scene of the tragedy. (21482811)

Mr Clay ran out and banged on neighbours’ doors to get help and someone to phone for firefighters. Gordon Annis entered the burning property with Mr Clay but they were engulfed in a big ball of black smoke and had to retreat.

“It was horrible and smelt vile,” said Mr Annis in written evidence.

Friends Tom Bishop and Chris Collins, who were on The Rec playing field opposite, went round the back and Mr Collins kicked in the door but they too had to abort their rescue effort. Along with others, they moved a car off the driveway and roused neighbours to get out of their properties.

The charred house. (21482567)
The charred house. (21482567)

Mrs George's sons Nigel and Richard were at the hearing and confirmed that she was a heavy drinker and smoker.

Nigel said he had last seen her a couple of days before the fire, adding: "She was fine, she was going to a meeting to get help with her drinking."

The inquest was told that Mrs George used a mobility scooter, she moved around the house by holding on to furniture and fittings, and it was a little unkempt.

Friends Tom Bishop and Chris Collins, who were on The Rec playing field opposite, went round the back and Mr Collins kicked in the door(21482801)
Friends Tom Bishop and Chris Collins, who were on The Rec playing field opposite, went round the back and Mr Collins kicked in the door   (21482801)

Nigel said his mum's health problems prevented her from keeping her council home as tidy as she would have wanted.

"Going from being a cleaner to living like that was like a kick in the teeth but she couldn't physically do it."

His first suspicions about the incident were that it had started by wood from the fire spilling out, as she was unable to chop or break pieces up and was prone to leaving large pieces sticking out.

Younger son Richard said it had been known for his mother to fall asleep in bed while having a cigarette.

Post mortem tests, which found the cause of death 'unascertained', showed that Mrs George was more than three times the drink-drive limit, which might have impaired her ability to respond to the fire.

An investigation by Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue concluded that the most likely cause was careless use of smoking materials. Police agreed after ruling out any third party involvement.

Assistant coroner for Lincolnshire Murray Spittal said it was a tragedy and gave a conclusion of accidental death.

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