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House blaze which killed mother was 'sparked by gas canisters and TV'

An explosion which killed a mother was likely sparked when she switched on her television after pierced gas canisters had filled her living room with butane.

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The blaze tore through the house on Beacon Lane

The house in Sedgley was engulfed by a fireball, trapping Michelle Howie and forcing her to flee upstairs to the bathroom.

But she was unable to escape, despite the heroic attempts of neighbours and firefighters, and died in the blaze.

An inquest heard how neighbours frantically tried to save the 43-year-old care assistant but were beaten back by the smoke and flames of the intense "flash fire".

Firefighters eventually reached her in the bathroom but nothing could be done to save her, despite the efforts of paramedics. She suffered severe burns and smoke inhalation in the blaze, which happened at around 2.30pm on May 8.

Investigators found 80 butane canisters in the front room of the two-storey property on Beacon Lane, around half of which had been pierced, the inquest at Black Country Coroner's Court was told.

Fire investigator James Holder said he believed these were linked to substance use and that the cans had been pierced in order to crush them so they could be thrown away.

Tributes left at the scene

He said this unintentionally created an "explosive atmosphere" and was probably ignited when the television was switched on.

Black Country Area Coroner Joanne Lees concluded Ms Howie's death was an accident.

She was at home with her partner and 16-year-old daughter when the fire broke out. Both managed to escape but suffered burns.

Several brave young men ran over to the house with ladders and tried to rescue the 43-year-old before the fire service arrived, but were unable to help as smoke poured out of the windows.

Ms Lees read a statement from Mr Holder, which said: "My view is the most likely source of ignition was the TV. The remote was found close to the knife Ms Howie was using to pierce.

"The TV, if switched on, could provide an ignition source."

Mr Holder said the tragedy served as a warning of the hidden dangers of substance abuse.

His statement continued: "Obviously this practice (piercing gas canisters) is to be discouraged because it creates an uncontrolled release of flammable gas into the atmosphere.

"This incident serves as a reminder of the forgotten dangers of substance abuse and highlights the dangers of such a habit.

"This is a very sad case. It is quite clear Ms Howie had no reasonable means of escape from the property."

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