TRIBUTES have been paid to an 83-year-old ‘stalwart’ who died after a house fire.

Sheila Sourbutts, who lived in Cliff Street, Rishton, died from the effects of severe smoke inhalation in hospital just hours after the blaze, which happened at around 4am on Boxing Day.

Mrs Sourbutts, who was a widow and was cared for by her son Ross, 52, was described by neighbours as a ‘lovely lady’ who was respected by many.

Yvonne Masterman, who lives down the road from Mrs Sourbutts, said: “I worked with Sheila for 20 years at a paper spinning works called Textilose in Rishton. I have known her going on 50 years.

“She was very jolly and you could have a good laugh with her.

“She was a really friendly person. Everybody in Rishton knew her.”

Mrs Sourbutts’s son Ross was also rescued from the fire and was taken to hospital for treatment His friend Derek Barden is also understood to have been in the house at the time and was given oxygen at the scene.

The fire is being treated as unexplained, but there are not believed to be any suspicious circum-stances. It is thought the blaze started downstairs.

Next door neighbour Reece Lock-hart said he had known Mrs Sourbutts all his life. He said: “It is awful, it is such a shame. I have lived here for 25 years and she has always been my neighbour. She was a very nice lady.”

Rishton councillor Harry Grayson said Mrs Sourbutts was a well known member of the community.

He said: “Sheila and her husband Harry, whom she lost a number of years ago, were very well-known. They were stalwarts in Rishton.

“Sheila’s son Ross had cared for her for the last five or six years. She was a lovely lady.” DI Holbrook from Lancashire Police said: “This is a tragic incident and we are working hard with the fire service to piece together what has happened.”

Group manager Ben Norman, from Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Our thoughts at this time are with the lady’s family.

“We have seen this happen too many times during a period which is supposed to bring joy and happiness.

“The property did have a working smoke alarm. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to help save this lady’s life.

“A joint police and fire invest-igation is now under way to deter-mine the cause of the fire.”

Anyone with any information that could assist the investigation should call Lancashire Police on 101.