Bulla Grace had been drinking alcohol when he decided to put
a pan of oil on the stove, the Rotorua Coroner has been told.
Whether he fell asleep and didn't wake up to the sound of the
fire alarm until it was too late, or whether his judgement
was impaired will never be known.
An inquest into Mr Grace's death in 2011 has heard that when
firefighters arrived at the Dickens St house they didn't
think anyone was inside until they came across Mr Grace, in a
crawling position, while searching the house.
Despite being revived several times at the scene and on the
way to hospital, he died a few hours later.
Senior specialist fire investigator Todd O'Donoghue told the
inquest before Rotorua Coroner Dr Wallace Bain that it was
hard to know whether Mr Grace realised the severity of the
fire and tried to escape.
Mr O'Donoghue said there was a door to outside in the room he
was found, but it was deadlocked and the key was snapped off
in the lock.
"The only other path was past the fire."
Mr O'Donoghue said the burns on Mr Grace's body were worse
higher up which meant he may have tried to escape past the
fire but found it too hot.
He said Mr Grace's death wasn't unique.
About 25 per cent of the house fires the New Zealand Fire
Service attends involve unattended cooking. With most fire
deaths, alcohol is involved.
He said the likely scenario was that Mr Grace put on food to
cook, but fell asleep.
While there were four smoke alarms in the house, only one was
working - the one closest to the fire, in the room which Mr
Grace was in and was still sounding when the fire service
A post mortem found Mr Grace died of severe burns.
A blood alcohol reading taken several hours after the fire
was about one time the legal driving limit but was likely to
have been higher at the time of the fire.
After the inquest, Mr O'Donoghue told the Rotorua Daily Post
that unattended cooking was the biggest cause of fires. He
said that in the year to date from July 1, 2012, 42 per cent
of house fires in Rotorua were caused by unattended cooking -
almost double the national rate.
"Compared to national figures it is huge."
He said Mr Grace's death highlighted the need to pay
attention when cooking, as well as the importance of having
working smoke alarms with the right batteries.
- By Rebecca Malcolm of the Rotorua Daily Post