A 75-year-old mum collapsed and died as she tried to escape from a fire in her bedroom.
Patricia Cowan, who suffered from dementia, had gone upstairs for a rest while her husband David was out running errands.
She is thought to have lit a cigarette and inadvertently dropped it onto a pile of clothing. The smouldering fire then spread to the bed, floorboards and door.
An inquest heard Mrs Cowan awoke to find the fire, but succumbed to fumes before she could get out. She was found lying on the bedroom floor after neighbours noticed smoke and called 999.
Firefighters rescued her from the semi-detached property in Mallorie Road, Norton, and carried her outside. Mrs Cowan, who had also suffered burns, was pronounced dead a short while later.
Next-door neighbour Denise Shaw had first realised something was wrong when she saw smoke from her living room window at around 11.15am on December 10.
She called the fire service and then went to investigate. After banging on the Cowans’ front door, she noticed the rear bedroom window was open. Mrs Shaw shouted ‘Pat’, but got no response.
By then, other residents had also been alerted and sirens could be heard. The couple’s dogs, who were kept in sheds, were standing by the side gate.
Devastated Mr Cowan arrived home as the emergency services were on the scene.
The couple, who had been married for around 58 years and had three children, moved to Mallorie Road three decades ago.
Mrs Cowan, a retired pottery worker, had started to show signs of memory problems in 2019. She was never formally diagnosed with dementia.
Her husband had even removed their gas stove as he feared she may accidentally leave the taps on. They had both agreed only to smoke downstairs.
The fire which claimed her life was the second accidental blaze within a year. Back in January 2020, Mrs Cowan had dropped a cigarette onto her dressing gown, although she was unhurt.
There was still a burn mark on the skirting board by the stairs from the earlier incident.
On December 10, things took a tragic turn after 76-year-old Mr Cowan had popped out to go to the shops and pick up an item from Royal Mail. He left the house at 10am.
In a statement, he said: “The last thing I remember her saying to me was, ‘You won’t be long, will you?’.
“As I left the house, I walked past the front window, and I waved to her. She was sitting in her chair watching TV.”
He described his wife as a ‘very independent person’.
“She would struggle to walk on occasion. But she never expected any help from anyone,” he added.
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Fire investigator James Holder said the fire had been confined to the rear bedroom. Close to where it started, there were ‘numerous carelessly discarded cigarette ends’.
The bed mattress had been burnt away, with only the springs and the drawers underneath it still intact.
Mr Holder said there were no smoke alarms in the house. “Had they been there in this case, it is possible Patricia could have been made aware of the fire earlier and the outcome different,” he added.
North Staffordshire area coroner Emma Serrano recorded a conclusion of accidental death.
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