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Girl, 3, died in fire at Lifton house 'full of so much clutter, the doors could not close'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 30, 2012

  • A fire investigation team inspect the house near Lifton, in West Devon, where Amelia Brown died. Below, floral tributes left at the scene

A three-year-old girl died in a house fire made worse by piles of clutter that ignited – helping create toxic smoke that overwhelmed her, an inquest heard.

Amelia Brown was in a first-floor bedroom of her home in Grinacombe Moor, near Lifton in Devon, where she lived with her mother Abigail, when the house caught fire on December 9 last year.

Firefighters tried to get in but were beaten back by an inferno which melted the plastic visors of their helmets.

They were not able to recover Amelia's body until the next day.

Yesterday, an inquest at Bideford Town Hall heard how the house was full of clutter, much of which belonged to Amelia's grandmother Stephanie Brown who owned the home and lived over the road with husband David. Items strewn around the house included old furniture and clothes, the inquest heard.

A statement from Detective Sergeant Barry Mitchell, who attended the scene, said: "I saw an extraordinary amount of hoarding and rubbish.

"It would have made moving around the property very difficult and would have made what I would call normal living activity virtually impossible."

George Setter, from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, investigated the fire and said that he could not close doors, including Amelia's, on the first floor, because of the clutter.

He said a bedroom door, which was not Amelia's, was blocked by "a cupboard, clothes, cat litter with excrement in it, and a bag of used nappies".

Mr Setter, following the inquest, said that he was unable to close Amelia's door because there were clothes, household goods and material in the way.

During the hearing, he concluded: "The unusually excessive amount of combustible materials supported accelerated fire development involving readily ignitable surfaces throughout the property. This generated large amounts of toxic smoke affecting all parts of the property, overcoming Amelia Brown in the first floor bedroom."

Mr Setter said smoke alarms were not fitted in the property.

Mr Setter said no exact cause of the fire could be determined because of how badly the kitchen was damaged.

Stephanie Brown, in her late 60s, earlier told the inquest how her husband David, who has since died, had been looking after Amelia after her mother went out to a pre-school fundraiser for the evening.

Asked about the clutter, she said: "There was quite a lot. I'm a great one for make do and mend.

"While it may have looked shabby, it was functional."

Deputy coroner John Tomalin said the cause of death was smoke inhalation and recorded a verdict of accidental death.

He said it appeared that Amelia was a "well-loved child who was well cared for".

However, Mr Tomalin said: "It's accepted by all that there was a large number of items in each room. This was to the extent that internal doors could not be closed."

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