A FIRE that engulfed a static caravan and killed a much-loved chef was a tragic accident, an inquest heard.

Matthew Lowe had been living in a caravan at Witton Castle Country Park, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, for just over seven months when a fire broke out during the early hours of March 8.

Neighbours awoke at around 5.45am to the sight of flames and smoke billowing from the living room section of his static caravan.

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The ferocity and heat prevented firefighters from reaching the 32-year-old who was trapped inside.

At an inquest at Crook Coroners court today (Thursday, September 26), fire investigator Lee Aspery said it was impossible to determine the exact cause of the blaze due to the extensive damage.

“It was not the mains electric or gas and there are no atmospheric conditions to suggest the caravan was struck by lightning,” he said.

“All the original eye witnesses and the accounts of the firefighters all place the fire as starting in the living room.”

He said the mostly likely explanation was that an electric fire had been left on, causing the metal frame of the sofa to overheat.

However, the plug socket was damaged so badly this could not be proved.

An iPad and iPhone found on the sofa were also identified as potential causes, while the discovery of a glass ashtray meant a lit cigarette could not be ruled out.

No smoke alarm was found but it is possible one may have been destroyed in the flames, as the park management insists all caravans are fitted with a working device and one was present when Mr Lowe took over the caravan last August.

Detective Constable James Vance, of Bishop Auckland CID, confirmed the fire was not suspicious.

Mr Lowe, a chef at the Cross Keys pub in Hamsterley, had enjoyed a few drinks with friends on the night of the fire and had posted on Facebook message about plans to buy a cat.

His father, John, said: “He was greatly loved by all his family and will be sadly missed.”

A post mortem found he died of burns and smoke inhalation.

Crispin Oliver, deputy coroner for County Durham, returned a verdict of accidental death.