Mother died trying to save daughter in house fire

Michelle and Courtenay Thomas
Image caption Michelle Thomas and Courtenay, four, died last September

A mother who escaped a house fire died after returning to the property to try and rescue her four-year-old daughter, an inquest heard.

The bodies of Michelle Thomas, 32, and her daughter Courtenay were found by firefighters in an upstairs bedroom at the house in Townhill, Swansea. Her three sons managed to escape alive.

The fire was caused by a naked flame downstairs, the inquest heard.

Swansea Coroner Phillip Rogers recorded a verdict of accidental death.

The inquest heard a passer-by noticed smoke coming from the property shortly after 1730 BST on 17 September last year and saw Mrs Thomas outside the house screaming "get out".

In a statement read to the inquest, witness Christopher Watts said he went into the house and helped two boys, who were overcome by smoke, to get down the stairs.

Mr Watts said he heard an upstairs door banging but had to leave the house because of the smoke.

Det Con Clive Jones added that after all three boys had escaped, Mrs Thomas went back into the house to try and recue her daughter.

Firefighters arrived at the scene at around 1810 BST and found the bodies of Mrs Thomas and Courtenay in an upstairs bedroom.

Image caption Firefighters found the bodies of Mrs Thomas and Courtenay

David Phillips, of Mid and West Wales fire service, told the inquest that firefighters climbed up a ladder to try and rescue the pair but high temperatures inside the house forced them back.

The fire had to be extinguished downstairs before they were able to reach the upstairs bedroom and find the bodies, the inquest heard.

Mrs Thomas' three sons, Jordan, then 15, Hayden, 12 and Jason 9, managed to escape alive.

Hayden suffered serious burns and only managed to survive by jumping out of the window of the same bedroom his mother and sister were later found.

Mrs Thomas's husband, taxi driver Kevin Thomas, was out of the house at the time of the fire, the inquest heard.

Cigarette lighter

Mr Phillips told the inquest the fire was started in the parents' bedroom downstairs, most likely by a naked flame from a cigarette lighter.

Videos and wedding photographs under the Thomas's bed, along with the carpet, would have provided the fire with plenty of fuel and produced thick toxic smoke, the inquest heard.

Within two to three minutes the combination of fuel and a strong wind rushing in through the open front door would have provided the perfect conditions for a backdraft or flashover.

Mr Phillips said a toxic fire ball burning at over 500C would have flashed through the house. No-one could have survived.

Mr Phillips said the extra time a smoke detector would have given could have saved their lives.

The privately rented home had no smoke alarm although one was fitted when it was renovated by the local authority in 1993.

Coroner Mr Rogers called this a "tragic case".

He said: "It seems likely that the cause of fire was a cigarette lighter but precisely how that lighter came to be lighted and by whom, cannot be established."

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