Record of Investigation Into Death (Without Inquest)
Corners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Donald John Jones, Coroner, having investigated a death of Walter Charles BAKES
I have decided not to hold an inquest into the death because the investigation into the death has sufficiently disclosed the identity of the deceased person, the time, place, the probable cause of death, relevant circumstances concerning the death and the particulars needed to register the death under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act.
Having conducted an investigation I do not consider that the holding of an inquest would elicit any information further to that disclosed by the enquiries conducted.
(a) The deceased, identified as Walter Charles BAKES, died on the 23 February 2011 at 6 Reid Street Burnie.
(b) Walter Charles BAKES was born in Burnie in Tasmania on the 10 April 1942 and was aged 78 years.
(c) Walter Charles BAKES was a widower whose occupation at the date of death was retired.
(d) I find that the deceased died as a result of asphyxia by smoke inhalation as a consequence of a house fire.
Circumstances Surrounding the Death:
The deceased, Walter Charles Bakes, was married to Elaine, who predeceased him by 20 years. They had four children together all of whom are now adults. Mr Bakes was a dozer driver and a mechanic during his working life and had retired at the time of his death.
Mr Bakes resided alone at 6 Reid Street, Upper Burnie. His health was poor as a consequence of a number of medical conditions including Parkinson’s disease, heart and bowel problems. He was also a heavy smoker. His poor health limited Mr Bakes’ mobility and he walked with a slow shuffle.
Mr Bakes’ son, Grahame Bakes, reported that his father was reluctant to seek medical attention for his health problems. He said his father often felt cold and would sit in a chair in the kitchen in front of a wood heater or an electric heater. Grahame had expressed his concerns to his father as to the risk of the heater being left unattended, or leaving his chair too close to the heater. Mr Bakes would express his annoyance saying he did not like his heater turned off, or people interfering with his way of life.
On 23 February 2011 at approximately 6:30pm a neighbour of Mr Bakes’, Dean Dicker, noticed smoke coming from a window of Mr Bakes’ residence. Mr Dicker immediately went to the residence entering via the back door. He opened the door leading into the kitchen, where he knew Mr Bakes was usually sitting, but was unable to enter the room due to the extreme heat and flames. He was unable to see Mr Bakes in the room and closed the door with the intention of confining the flames, and continued to search for Mr Bakes. He returned to the kitchen, but the heat and smoke prevented him from entering the room. Mr Dicker was forced to leave the residence due to concern as to the advancing fire.
Another male, Nathan Streets, was visiting a friend at a nearby residence also noticed smoke coming from Mr Bakes’ residence. He went to the residence and observed Mr Dicker in the porch area attempting to locate Mr Bakes. On being informed that a person was still in the residence, Mr Streets smashed a window in an effort to extinguish the fire with a garden hose which he fed through the window frame.
Fire crews arrived from Tasmania Fire Service, at which time the fire had taken hold, but generally confined to the kitchen area of the residence. The fire was extinguished and fire officers located a male person in the kitchen area of the residence. The male was positively identified as Mr Bakes.
A post mortem examination conducted by forensic pathologist Dr Donald Ritchey found Mr Bakes’ cause of death to be asphyxia due to smoke inhalation as a result of the house fire. Toxicology testing of Mr Bakes’ blood revealed a 48% saturation of carboxyhemoglobin which is approaching a fatal range. He also found probable significant contributing factors to Mr Bakes’ death to be severe atherosclerotic vascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, chronic pancreatitis, and emphysema.
An investigation was carried out by Tasmania Fire Service Fire Investigators. This investigation found that it was highly probable the fire had started in the south eastern corner of the kitchen, within a half metre radius of origin being in front of the portable radiant heater. The only probable ignition factor found within this radius was the radiant heater being too close to combustible materials, either Mr Bakes’ chair or blankets on the chair.
The fire service investigation combined with an investigation conducted by Tasmania Police found that the cause of the fire at Mr Bakes’ house was accidental.
I am satisfied that no person contributed to Mr Bakes’ death.
Comments and Recommendations:
It is recommended the public be informed of the dangers of placing furniture, or any combustible material, in close proximity to heaters or fires generally. Frequently material used in furniture, or blankets, or clothing are susceptible to absorbing heat from heat sources, smouldering, and then spontaneously combusting.
Many older people frequently resort to keeping warm by sitting over, or too close, to fire sources not realising the potentially dangerous situation they are placing themselves in.
There should be more warnings of the inherent risks and dangers of this type of conduct in the press and other communications, e.g. radio and television.
Before I conclude this matter, I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the family of the deceased.
This matter is now concluded.
DATED : 10 May 2013 at Burnie in the State of Tasmania
Donald John Jones