A HOUSE fire in which a man lost his life was caused by a discarded cigarette, an inquest has heard.

Robert Furlong, 48, died during the blaze at his flat in The Manors, Fishburn, County Durham, on September 15, 1999.

Despite the efforts of two neighbours to reach Mr Furlong in the front room, they were unable to get him out of the house and he was dead before firefighters and police arrived.

Fire Officer Leslie Greenwood, of Darlington fire station, told coroner Kenneth Howe that he believed a carelessly discarded cigarette had started the fire, on a settee in the front room.

FO Greenwood said: "We carried out a full investigation of the flat, which was severely damaged by the intense heat of the flames and thick smoke.

"The fire appears to have started on the settee, which I believed Mr Furlong was sleeping on at the time as he was found lying next to it, along with a badly damaged duvet.

"Hundreds of cigarette ends were found in the room, so we could tell he was a heavy smoker."

Post-mortem findings from pathologist Dr Don Senadhira showed Mr Furlong had been heavily intoxicated. The cause of his death was carbon monoxide poisoning, due to smoke inhalation, the inquest heard.

Mr Howe recorded a verdict of accidental death.