A house fire in which an elderly widow died was most likely caused by a match or a cigarette, an inquest heard yesterday.

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Audrey Matthews, 86, was killed in the fire at Church Walk, Burnham Market, on January 5 this year.

Norfolk coroner William Armstrong said the fire started in a cupboard under the stairs, where the 86-year-old hid her cigarettes.

He added the cause of the death was asphyxia due to smoke inhalation and recorded a verdict at King’s Lynn County Court of accidental death.

John Skeels, from care agency Housing21, looked after Mrs Matthews for 18 months and popped in to see the Burnham Market resident twice on the day she died.

Asked if he knew Mrs Matthews smoked, Mr Skeels said: “I only found out she was a smoker because I found cigarette ends in the toilet and kitchen sink. It wasn’t something she would do in front of me and used to keep her cigarettes hidden away.”

Describing his recollection from the day she died, he added: “I first called into the see her at 9.10am and later returned at 1pm to give her lunch before leaving again at 1.15pm.

“She was fine when I left. I had asked her if there was anything she needed me to do and she just wanted me to look the back door.”

John Burrows, a station manager at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, attended the scene after the first fire crew from Wells had arrived.

He said: “One sensible explanation is that we believe, having had an enjoyable lunch and understanding she was a secret smoker, she had gone into the cupboard to get cigarettes and dropped a match or lighted cigarette in the debris on the floor”

He added burns to Mrs Matthews’s hands and chin and a scorched teatowel in the kitchen suggested the 86-year-old had attempted to put out the fire.

“We believe she felt she had put out the fire, opened the back door to clear the smoke and then went back inside to rest and was overcome by the fumes.”

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