Belfast Telegraph

Alcoholic woman (53) died in blaze caused by cigarette she'd lit before falling asleep

By Donna Deeney

A house fire in which a woman died was caused by a cigarette, an inquest has heard.

Helga McAteer (53) perished in the blaze at her home near Limavady last summer.

She had a high level of alcohol in her blood and that affected her ability to escape, a coroner was told.

During the hearing yesterday her daughter thanked the firefighters who attended the scene.

Ms McAteer died on July 17, 2017, at her Grange Park home.

The inquest heard she had suffered carbon monoxide poisoning caused by smoke inhalation.

The Coroners Court, sitting in Coleraine, was told Ms McAteer, who had a history of drink abuse, had a level of alcohol in her blood equivalent to almost four times the legal limit for driving.

Former State Pathologist Professor Jack Crane told the court that Ms McAteer had been alive when the fire started, but her inebriation would have hampered her ability to escape.

Professor Crane said there was a fatal level of carbon monoxide in the victim's lungs and she had also suffered burns to her body.

The inquest heard from a neighbour who tried to come to the her aid.

Jason King, in a statement read out by Coroner Joe McCrisken, described how he was woken by his wife at 5.50am on July 17 after she heard Ms McAteer's smoke alarm.

Mr King ran to Ms McAteer's house.

After failing to gain entry he rang the PSNI and Fire Service, who arrived a short time later.

A police officer said when he entered the property there was a strong smell of smoke but no sign of flames.

He found Ms McAteer on the settee in her living room.

He carried her outside to see if resuscitation was possible, but it was clear that she was already dead.

The court also heard from Ms McAteer's GP.

He said she had an issue with alcohol abuse for a number of years and reportedly drank a litre bottle of vodka a day.

Fire investigator Gary Magwood told the court he was able to say "quite clearly" that the fire had started from a lit cigarette on Ms McAteer's bed, where a bottle of alcohol was lying close by.

He also told the court he believed Ms McAteer fell asleep, but was woken by the fire and left the bedroom.

In a drowsy state caused by the level of alcohol, she tried to make her way out but bypassed the front door and went into the living room instead and rested on the sofa.

It was there where she was overcome by the smoke.

Mr McCrisken offered Ms McAteer's family his condolences.

He said her death demonstrated the "high risks of smoking in the home at any time, but especially after consuming alcohol".

Ms McAteer's daughter thanked Mr McCrisken and members of the Fire Service who were in court.

She said: "We are all very grateful."

Belfast Telegraph

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