Lilbourne couple died while trying to put out Christmas tree fire in their house

Hillmorton Lane, Lilbourne
Hillmorton Lane, Lilbourne

An elderly couple died in a house fire in Lilbourne after a candle set fire to their Christmas tree.

As was their festive tradition, 80-year-olds John and Helge Hurst, would light candles on the tree after their dinner every day throughout the Christmas period. On January 8, 2017 a fire was reported and the couple were found dead at their home in Hillmorton Lane, Lilbourne.

Following an inquest on Wednesday, May 24, their deaths were adjudged to be accidental by Northamptonshire County Coroner Ann Pember, with the couple dying as a result of asphyxiation and smoke inhalation.

Mr Hurst, once head of maths at Coventry University, and his wife, a former nurse, would often eat their dinner around 7pm in the lounge accompanied with a glass of wine, after which they would light the candles.

The inquest was told it would take approximately one hour for a candle to burn, and the fire was reported between 8.30pm and 9pm.

The couple were found in the kitchen next to Pyrex jugs and with the tap running, while wine glasses, a pitcher and slippers were found in the living room where the Christmas tree was located.

This led Luke Hodson, the fire officer who carried out the investigation and who testified at the inquest, to conclude that Mr and Mrs Hurst had attempted to put the fire out by filling up containers with water from the kitchen rather than escaping their property.

The burns suffered by the couple support the claim as they would have walked past the burning tree on their trips back and forth to the kitchen.

Eventually they succumbed to asphyxia.

Jennifer O’Neill, one of the Hurst’s three children, told the inquest that on Christmas Eve, when the family had been together at the Lilbourne property, she had noticed that the tree was “tinder dry” as the elderly couple liked their lounge to be warm.

While the family were there one of the candles on the tree had caught fire, but Mrs Hurst had acted quickly and managed to extinguish it.

Mrs O’Neill, in her statement at the inquest, expressed a degree of regret at not raising her concerns then about the potential fire hazard. She added: “My parents died the way they had lived, together.”