Smoke detector 'mistakes' in double fatal Camp Bastion blaze, inquest told

The Northern Echo: Private Dean Hutchinson, 23, who was killed along with Private Rob Wood, 28 Private Dean Hutchinson, 23, who was killed along with Private Rob Wood, 28

The soldier in charge of fire safety in the tent in which two colleagues died during a blaze at Camp Bastion may have been mistaken in believing it wasn't his job to check the smoke detectors, an inquest heard.

Corporal David Williams insisted he was told in a briefing shortly after arriving in Afghanistan that a civilian contractor was responsible for ensuring that they worked.

Cpl Williams was giving evidence on the fourth day of the inquest in Salisbury, Wiltshire, into the deaths of Privates Dean Hutchinson, 23, of Spennymoor, County Durham and Rob Wood, 28, of Marchwood, Hampshire.

They were killed when intense flames swept through a logistical centre at the Helmand province HQ in the early hours of February 14, 2011.

The pair, who served with The Royal Logistic Corps, were sleeping in the tented Transport Troop office so they could respond quickly when vital supplies arrived.

Eyewitnesses described smelling smoke coming from the area housing a 32-inch flat screen TV, boiler and fridge and seeing flames coming from cabling leading to the air conditioning unit.

Cpl Williams told how he began the tour in November 2010 and was appointed "fire NCO" for the Transport Troop, meaning he kept the "fire diary".

The coroner asked him who he believed was responsible for checking the battery operated smoke detector in the tent.

"It was my understanding at the time that the physical checks were done by KBR because we were told they were under KBR contract," he told the hearing.

He said this was "flagged up" at the first fire meeting he attended.

Shown those minutes, which did not mention that specific point, Cpl Williams said he had written that down in his own notes.

Those notes were later submitted to the inquest and referred to "alarms" and not battery-powered smoke detectors.

Mr Ridley asked him: "Do you think you made a mistake about what was being conveyed?"

Corporal Williams replied: "May well be."

The inquest has heard private contractor KBR was employed to provide the infrastructure at Camp Bastion and had responsibility for maintaining fire alarms and the mains-operated smoke detectors.

It was not responsible for battery-operated smoke detectors, something explained in the "fire diary".

Cpl Williams said he merely carried out visual checks and accepted this did not match the guidance published in the "fire diary" of how battery-powered smoke detectors were to be checked.

Barry Wheater, who investigated the fire, said the source of the blaze was in the corner of the tent when the TV, boiler and fridge were stored.

The boiler and fridge were plugged into a four way extension socket but it was unclear whether the TV was also been plugged in.

The inquest continues.

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