Spalding house fire deaths: illegal cigarettes link to triple tragedy
Three drunken men who died in a Spalding house fire habitually disabled smoke detectors so they could smoke in their rooms, an inquest heard.
All three men, described as “extremely drunk”, were between four and five times the legal drink-drive limit when the fire started on April 30 and a pathologist said drink may have played a part in them being unable to escape.
It is believed an illegal, non self-extinguishing cigarette may have been dropped on the bed in Marian Mariusz Laczynski’s room, where the three men had gathered, and started a smouldering fire.
Police responding to a report of smoke in the area found the house on fire and alerted Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue shortly after midnight.
Firefighters found Marian (38) slumped in the hallway, half-way between his room and the back door, took him outside and an attending
paramedic started working on him. But sadly he died.
A roof collapse forced firefighters to withdraw from the house, which meant the bodies of Pawel Jaroslaw Lazarewicz (53) and Sylwester Grabczewski (42) went undiscovered for several hours.
Station manager Pete Wiles, a fire investigation officer with Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue, said “non fire safe cigarettes”, which Lincolnshire Trading Standards confirmed were “boot legged varieties”, were found in Pawel’s room.
The inquest heard the fire completely destroyed Marian’s bedroom and the room above but he was known to have previously disabled the smoke detector in his own room.
Fire investigators found the remnants of a plastic bag wrapped around the smoke detector in Pawel’s room.
Post mortem examinations revealed all three man died from inhalation of the products of combustion and in each case the pathologist said their alcohol levels may have played a part in them being “unable to escape the fire environment”.
Marian was identified from fingerprints and the other two men from DNA.
South Lincolnshire assistant coroner Dr Murray Spittal said: “I have heard consistent evidence that all three were heavy drinkers. They also smoked in their rooms against the tenancy agreement and were known to disable smoke detectors in their rooms.”
He concluded their deaths were as a result of misadventure.
Earlier, station manager Wiles said the fire could have started anything up to four hours before Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue were alerted at 00.05 on May 1.
He said the house was well alight when fire crews arrived and the blaze had spread from the ground floor up into the roof space.
Station manager Wiles said the presence of tar and soot in other parts of the building were indicators that it had developed from a smouldering fire.
“It’s smouldering away quite happily and then it reaches a point where it’s hot enough to start flaming,” he said.
Station manager Wiles said it appeared Marian did react to the fire because he was found collapsed half-way between his bedroom and the back door with burns.
But there were reasons why the others didn’t react.
“If you are in a drunken stupor and you are breathing in the products of combustion you would go into a deeper and deeper sleep to the point where you would not wake up,” he said.
Tricia Pite, who ran the house in multiple occupation, said there had been issues with the three men because they were drinking so much.
She said: “They were so drunk they could not go to work. They were all behind on their rent.”
Mrs Pite said all three men smoked in their rooms and she had spoken to them about that and had asked them not to cover the smoke detectors.
She was cleaning carpets at the house on April 30 and saw the men then.
“All three of them had had a lot to drink and they were singing some long football song,” she said.
Delia Palivoniene, who lived at the house with her husband, confirmed the three men were heavy drinkers.
She said: “They used to be drunk much more often than they were sober.”
• Speaking after the inquest, station manager Wiles said: “It is our belief that Marian, Pawel and Sylwester had been congregating in the bedroom and had all consumed significant amounts of alcohol. I believe an illegal cigarette may have been dropped on the bed and left unnoticed and smouldering for some time, before causing a significant fire.
“Sadly the fire alarms had also been covered over in the bedroom – this would have delayed the operation of the fire alarms in the rest of the building.
“This tragic incident highlights why having a smoke alarm is so vitally important and also why people, if they choose to smoke, should smoke cigarettes which are legal and therefore conform to EU safety standards.”
Emma Milligan, principal trading standards officer at Lincolnshire County Council, said: “The illegal cigarettes that featured in this tragic case failed to self-extinguish and were the most likely cause of the fire which led to three people losing their lives.
“It is sad to think that people who buy illicit whites, eg. Pect or Jin Lings, think they are getting a bargain, not realising they are actually putting their lives and those of their loved ones at risk.
“We’ve now seen, for the second tragic time in our county, why these cigarettes are illegal in the UK due to not meeting UK safety standards.
“Tackling the sale of counterfeit and illegal cigarettes is a priority for us, and we work closely with Lincolnshire Police to take appropriate enforcement action against those involved. We need your help to do this, so please if you suspect anyone of selling cheap, illegal cigarettes, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 to help us avoid tragic cases in the future.”