A BLIND 94-year-old heavy smoker burned to death at her Blackheath sheltered accommodation after dropping a cigarette butt, an inquest heard yesterday (Dec 5).
Southwark Coroner's Court heard how, on July 24, maintenance man at Tudor Grange Harry Simmonds heard a fire alarm going at Marjorie Benson's private flat and raced to extinguish the flames with a hose.
Mr Simmonds, who has worked at the Bupa-managed complex in Westcombe Park Road since 2001, said that the alarm sounded at around 11.35am and he was at the scene in seconds.
He said: "I saw black liquid the whole width of the door, running from the top all the way down."
The maintenance man ran to the courtyard at the back of Ms Benson's flat where her doors were open, letting out flames and smoke. He said: "Marjorie was lying on the floor ablaze."
Along with colleague Alan Evans they battled the flames with a hose and managed to extinguish most of it before the fire brigade arrived.
Fire Investigation Officer Barry Kent, from the London Fire Brigade described how the heat had melted Ms Benson's clock off the wall, stopping it at 11.33am - the time of the fire.
Ms Benson, who had suffered 100 per cent burns, was pronounced dead at 11.50am and Mr Kent confirmed the fire was caused by careless disposal of a cigarette.
The inquest heard Ms Benson, who was severely visually impaired, smoked around 40 cigarettes a day, often dropping still lit ends into a bowl she kept next to her chair.
Her family had tried in vain to persuade her to give up the habit, described as her last remaining pleasure in life.
Recording a verdict of accidental death, coroner Philip Barlow said: "She was a lady who was determined in her ways and, indeed, it's probably that which got her through the 94 years that she had really lived."