A coroner at the inquest into an 80-year-old man who died in a house fire on Christmas Eve has said the inquest puts a spotlight on the risk that people do not realise how innocuously a fire can start.

Edward Benedict Donnelly also know as Ben died on December 24, 2018 after a fire in the living room of his house.

A retired mechanic and baker, the inquest heard his daughter Sharon describe him as a “jolly and strong man” who was of sound and intelligent mind.

On December 23 at around 5pm, Sharon’s partner Joseph Corrigan visited Mr. Donnelly and put the fire on for him. He returned at 8pm to give Mr. Donnelly his dinner and stoked the fire before leaving around 10 minutes later. There was no fireguard on the fire at this time.

On Christmas Eve, Mr. Corrigan was out walking his dog and saw there was a bin collection and went to go and let Mr. Donnelly know.

When he arrived at the house he shouted in through the letterbox as the deceased was hard of hearing. When there was no reply he went around to the front of the house and he noticed the windows were blackened. He called the emergency services, with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) forcing entry through the back door and locating Mr. Donnelly on a chair in the living room.

There was significant damage to the living room with a fire damage hole in the floor in front of the fire and at a wall where the sofa would have been.

A picture of the scene showed a fireguard in place, a bucket in front of the fire and a fire damaged hole in the wooden flooring.

Warren Kerr of the NIFRS who was part of the fire investigation gave findings that the most likely situation was the fire was accidental and had been caused by removing hot ashes from the fire, likely by Mr. Donnelly, and placing them in a plastic bucket which was then placed onto a combustible floor cover close to some kindling which then spread to the sofa.

The hot ashes and dry wood provided the fuel necessary for carbon monoxide to be produced.

Mr. Kerr told the inquest that although there were smoke alarms in the house they were not backed up by batteries.

A separate investigation carried out by Andrew Agnew of Forensic Science Northern Ireland agreed with that of the NIFRS.

The autopsy carried out by Assistant State Pathologist, Dr. Christopher Johnson, found that Mr. Donnelly had significant heart disease which also contributed to his death. A test to measure the amount of Carboxyhemoglobin in Mr. Donnelly’s blood found it at 17.5 per cent. Mr. Donnelly being a non-smoker would have been expected to have between zero and three per cent in his blood.

In his findings, Coroner Patrick McGurgan said he hoped the inquest was of benefit to the family to help understand what happened prior to Mr. Donnelly’s death.

He said he was a “larger than life character” and even though he was 80 years old with mobility issues, he was able to clear out his own fire but he did not understand how a fire can take hold so quickly.

He found that hot ashes placed in a plastic bucket beside sticks were ignited quickly.

He added that due to carbon monoxide poisoning Mr. Donnelly would not have known what was happening and that is why he never got out of his seat.

Mr. McGurgan added that if one person was saved by simply reading the finding of this tragedy then the inquest was worthwhile.

He paid tribute to Ms. Donnelly and Mr. Corrigan for the attention they gave to the deceased.

Mr. McGurgan found that Mr. Donnelly died from inhalation of the products of combustion in association with ischaemic and hypertensive heart disease.