Forensic experts unable to identify cause of fire which led to death of pensioner

Investigators say sofa was centre of fire but no accelerant, candles, electrical device found

The coroner returned a verdict of accidental death. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The coroner returned a verdict of accidental death. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

An inquest into the death of a pensioner in a house fire in Dublin’s north inner city heard forensic experts were unable to establish how the fire started.

George Healy (78) was found unconscious in his home on Hibernia Avenue, North Strand on the evening of December 22nd, 2017 after a neighbour alerted emergency services after seeing smoke coming from the property.

Efforts to resuscitate Mr Healy, who was discovered in the kitchenette of the house, proved unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead a short time later at the Mater Hospital.

A crime-scene examiner, Garda Gareth Norton, told an inquest at Dublin Coroner’s Court on Tuesday that the seat of the fire was a sofa in the living room.

However, Gda Norton said no evidence of any accelerant, candles or electrical device was found in the vicinity of the sofa which might have caused the fire.

While there was a lot of smoke damage in the house, Gda Norton said the fire seemed to have been contained around the area of the sofa.

He said a coal fire had been prepared in an open fireplace but was unlit and was not a factor in the incident.

“I didn’t find anything at the scene around the sofa that would have caused the fire to start,” said Gda Norton.

He said there was no evidence of anyone else being in the house who might have been using an ashtray.

The inquest heard from the deceased’s estranged wife, Catherine Healy, that he was a non-smoker who did not use candles.

The station officer from North Strand Fire Station, Cormac Cahill, who oversaw the emergency response to the alarm said fire crews needed breathing apparatus to enter the property as the house was filled with smoke.

However, Mr Cahill said there were no real flames as it was a “smouldering” fire.

The coroner, Dr Crona Gallagher, said the 55 per cent carbon monoxide saturation rate in Mr Healy’s lungs, revealed in a postmortem report, was at a level which could cause death in anyone.

While an alcohol level over twice the legal drink-driving limit was found in Mr Healy’s blood, the coroner said it was a low level of intoxication which was not a factor in his death.

The cause of death was identified as carbon monoxide toxicity due to smoke inhalation from a house fire.

Dr Gallagher said Mr Healy also had heart disease, of which he was unaware, which may have been a contributory factor in his death.

However, the coroner said the deceased had not suffered a heart attack at the time of his death.

As she was satisfied that there was no evidence of foul play, Dr Gallagher returned a verdict of accidental death.