Appliance may have caused fatal fire
A fire that killed a couple as they slept may have started in a de-humidifier, the inquest into their deaths has heard.
Joan and Robert Rines, aged 76 and 61, succumbed to fumes from the blaze at their rented property on the Castle Filleigh estate in June last year.
By the time fire crews arrived the first floor of Meadow Park Lodge had collapsed. The damage was so extensive that both bodies had to be identified through dental records.
The fire broke out at the North Devon property, which is owned by Lord and Lady Arran, some time between 9.30pm on June 17 and 2.37am on June 18 last year.
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The fire service was first alerted by a call from lorry driver Rodney Evans-Loude, who spotted the flames while driving a mile away.
Evidence was heard at the inquest from Mark Burroughs, a fire investigation officer from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, who said: "It is difficult to estimate the time of ignition. The fire had been burning for an hour or possibly two before it was discovered."
He suggested it had started in the area of a de-humidifier which was in the downstairs living room. However, he said this was not conclusive and he could not say if the appliance had been switched on.
It was heard that the last contact made with Mrs Rines was from her niece during a phone call at around 9.15pm on June 17.
"Both Mr and Mrs Rines were in the first-floor bedroom when the floor collapsed," said Mr Burroughs.
"The fire started to the left of the sofa and spread to the curtains and the sofa. The most likely source of the ignition is the de-humidifier."
A statement read out from Mrs Rines's son, Kevin Dodge, described the property his mother lived in to be structurally poor. He said it was very damp and cold and had mould growing on the walls and added that a request had been made for the electrics to be updated.
Evidence was heard at the inquest from Paul Smalley, who was responsible for managing buildings within the Castle Filleigh estate. He said that Meadow Park Lodge was a Grade II-listed building erected in 1845 and that it had been rented out by Mr and Mrs Rines since 2005.
He said a domestic visual report had been carried out at the property by James Electricals in April 2009. A number of observations were made in the report, including that there was no battery in the smoke detector, but Mr Smalley said this detector had not been installed by him.
It was also heard the report covered all 55 properties within the estate and that any recommendations were acted on in order of urgency. "These works did not need to be done within 12 months," said Mr Smalley. "We knew what we had to do and the further inspections would have been undertaken after that."
A post-mortem examination was carried out which suggested both Mr and Mrs Rines died from inhalation of hot gases and fire smoke.
In her conclusion, coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland said: "I am satisfied that some time after 9.30pm on June 17 Mr and Mrs Rines succumbed to fumes from a fire which started in the area of a dehumidifier in the lounge of Meadow Park Lodge."
The verdict of accidental death was given.
Lady Arran paid tribute to the couple, saying: "We were deeply fond of them and they will be remembered forever."
She added: "We will be planting a memorial to them near the lodge within the trees."