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Heavy smoker died in bungalow blaze

PUBLISHED: 10:40 17 July 2009 | UPDATED: 14:26 03 July 2010

A HEAVY smoker who died in a blaze at his Yarmouth bungalow may have started the fatal fire by accidentally dropping a cigarette or match, an inquest heard yesterday.

A HEAVY smoker who died in a blaze at his Yarmouth bungalow may have started the fatal fire by accidentally dropping a cigarette or match, an inquest heard yesterday.

Alan Austin, 75 and who had both legs amputated, died after a fire ripped through the bedroom of his Wherry Way sheltered accommodation home in the early hours of February 15.

During the blaze the other occupant of the bungalow and friend of Mr Austin, George Star was pulled to safety by staff at the borough council run block.

The exact circumstances of Mr Austin's death remain unclear after deputy coroner Nicholas Holroyd heard he may have suffered a heart attack and then dropped a match or cigarette or had the heart attack after the fire started from dropping a lit up cigarette or match.

And as Mr Holroyd recorded an open verdict mystery still surrounded the background of Mr Austin who had lived in Yarmouth for about 14 years.

The inquest at Yarmouth Magistrates Court was told that efforts to track down Mr Austin's estranged daughter and son in America and Portsmouth had failed and that it was not even known what he had done for a living.

Home office pathologist Ben Swift told the inquest that a post mortem examination revealed Mr Austin had inhaled smoke from the fire and was suffering from heart disease.

The inquest was also told that due to poor health he was mostly confined to his bedroom.

It could not be conclusively proved if Mr Austin suffered a heart attack and then dropped a lit cigarette or match or had a heart attack after the fire had started from a lit match or cigarette.

The inquest heard that care staff worker Gill Howe had tried to warn both occupants about the fire by banging on their front door and then managed to pull Mr Star to safety.

As Mr Holroyd recorded his open verdict he praised the staff of the sheltered accommodation block and paid tribute to Tony and Eileen Griffen, who were friends of Mr Austin and Mr Star and paid regular visits to help look after them.

Earlier this month the Mercury reported how Mr Star, a 74-year-old retired Breckland Council dustman, was handed a £1,000 bill from Norfolk County Council for the temporary accommodation provided for him while his Wherry Way home was being repaired.

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