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Heater started fire that killed Malvern pensioner, inquest hears
A PENSIONER died when her caravan caught fire in the middle of the night, an inquest has heard.
Valerie Ashcroft, aged 74, died after her park home at the Three Counties Park in Sledge Green, Upper Pendock, near Malvern, caught fire on Tuesday, March 25.
An inquest at Worcestershire Coroners Court on Wednesday, July 16 heard Mrs Ashcroft’s neighbour Ian Roberts had said he had seen the flames from his caravan at about 4.30am and ran towards it, waking up neighbours to get help and trying to wake up Mrs Ashcroft.
But, in a statement read out by senior coroner Geraint Williams, Mr Roberts said he had to back away when the flames became too hot.
Although a post mortem examinatin found Mrs Ashcroft’s carboxyhemoglobin blood saturation – the amount of carbon monoxide in her blood – was 40 per cent, her body was so badly burned it was impossible to establish a cause of death.
Blood saturation levels in the average non-smoker are only about three per cent or 10 per cent for smokers.
Jonathan Butlin, station commander at Worcester fire station, told the inquest the service had been called at about 4.42am and sent two engines to the scene, who then called for two more.
He said it was all-but impossible to tell how the fire had started, but it was likely it was caused by a halogen heater Mrs Ashcroft used to keep herself warm, which was near a decorative fireplace and an electric clock, which may have contributed.
He said a representative from Age UK had recently visited Mrs Ashcroft, a retired home help worker, and noticed the smoke alarms in the caravan were not working.
Although Mrs Ashcroft was initially thought to be in the bedroom of the home – which was about 95 per cent destroyed in the fire – her body was later found in the lounge area.
Mr Butlin said the amount of carbon monoxide in her lungs suggested that may have killed her rather than the flames.
“It’s not usually the flames that kill you – it’s the fumes,” he said.
Passing a verdict of accidental death, Mr Williams said he was satisfied it was likely the fire had been caused by the halogen heater and that Mrs Ashcroft had died as a result of inhaling carbon monoxide.
Speaking after the inquest, Mrs Ashcroft’s sons David, Steve and Kevin Bird said their mother had become “confused” since a recent bladder infection.
They also paid tribute to the neighbours and firefighters who tried to save her.
Remembering Mrs Ashcroft as a “very loving” mother who loved animals, Kevin said: “It’s left a big hole in our lives.”