Inquest hears of Holme Hale house fire in which two women died

The exact cause of a cottage fire in which two sisters died could not be established although the amount of clutter in their home could have contributed to the speed in which the fire spread, an inquest has heard.

Olive Cornish, 89, and Margaret Rowland, 81, died at their home in Lower Road, Holme Hale, near Swaffham, following a fire on November 21 last year.

Yesterday's inquest heard how when police attended the scene they could see smoke coming from the cottage's roof, and they first saw flames through the right-hand side bedroom window.

The inquest heard firefighters first managed to rescue Mrs Cornish from the cottage and that CPR was conducted on her for about half an hour but she could not be revived. Mrs Rowland was found by firefighters in the bathroom.

Husband and wife Anthony and Heather Watson, who had been friends with Mrs Cornish and Mrs Rowland for about five years, spoke of how the sisters were hoarders and their house was quite cluttered.

Mr Watson said a few weeks before the fire he had visited their home to find coal on the floor, and he said carpet in the cottage was full of burn holes.

Fire investigation officer Phil Berry said an investigation into what caused the fire was hampered because structural damage to the building meant it had not been safe to do an internal investigation.

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He said instead the report was based on evidence from people who attended the fire and from Mr and Mrs Watson.

Mr Berry said there had been fire damage to the structure of the building at ground floor, first floor and roof level and it seemed to be worst in Mrs Cornish's bedroom and upstairs.

He said the electrics in the cottage were fairly old, and although there did not seem to be signs of electrical faults it was possible rodents could have chewed through wiring. He said an electrical appliance could have led to a fault. He also pointed to the fact there was a wood burner in Mrs Cornish's bedroom which was one of the rooms badly affected by fire, and he said evidence of careless disposal of ash and hot ember suggested the fire may have been caused by mismanagement of hot embers. He said clutter in the house could have caused the fire to spread more quickly, and said he had found no evidence that the fire was deliberate and no evidence that a third party was involved.

A post mortem examination established both women died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning due to house fire.

Deputy assistant coroner for Norfolk David Osborne said while a definite cause for the fire could not be given evidence showed it was accidental and had no third party involvement. He recorded a verdict that Mrs Cornish and Mrs Rowland died as a result of an accident.

David and John Bennett, cousins of the sisters, were at the inquest. One of them told the inquest they had grown up as a close family but Mrs Cornish and Mrs Rowland had later said they did not want any more to do with them.

• emma.knights@archant.co.uk