A RETIRED dentist died after a chemical he unwittingly spilled on his clothes ignited when he lit a cigarette.

An inquest in Blackburn heard how Noel Patrick Cooney’s wife tried desperately to save her husband when she found him on fire at the surgery he used to practise out of, which formed part of their home in Sudell Road, Darwen.

Passers-by who heard what was happening attempted to get into the house to rescue Mr Cooney, 78, but were unable to advance any more than six feet into the property before retreating due to the thick smoke.

In a statement, his wife Patricia Cooney said despite being retired, Mr Cooney still liked to ‘tinker’ in his surgery, making dental models and moulds for teeth, using chemicals and substances he still had access to.

Mrs Cooney said: “He normally had a cigarette with his coffee in the morning and that morning he took his coffee from me and went into another room. Within five or ten minutes I heard Noel shout my name and I went to find him and saw that he was in the surgery.

“He was standing near the door to the waiting room, and he was on fire.

“There were flames on his clothes and arms. I ran back into the front room to get a rug to cover the flames but when I returned he was sitting on the floor and the flames had spread and there was smoke everywhere.”

The inquest heard how Mrs Cooney, 76, tried to pull her husband away, but the flames and smoke got too much and she had to leave the house and call 999.

A police and fire service investigation into the cause of the fire on the morning of September 27 found there to be smoking materials in the surgery, as well as a colourless liquid chemical that would have been used to make dental moulds.

The findings suggested that at some point during his morning routine, which his wife said he was meticulous about, Mr Cooney had spilled the flammable liquid over his clothing without realising and had placed the lid back on the bottle before returning it to its rightful place.

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Fire service incident intelligence officer Jim Stone, said: “It is highly likely that he then lit a cigarette, and the chemical, which can vapourise on release, and burn with no physical flame, has ignited, setting his clothes on fire. The fire spread rapidly about his person.”

Coroner James Newman said: “He wouldn’t have realised he was on fire until he felt some discomfort, and due to the smoke inhalation, Noel would have lost consciousness quite quickly, and I don’t believe he would have suffered for any period of time.”

After the fatal tragedy, Mr Cooney’s family paid tribute to the much-loved dentist, who loved American Civil War re-enactments, saying: “He was amazing and would do anything for anyone.”

Mr Newman recorded a verdict of misadventure due to the fact he had been using potentially dangerous chemicals that he spilled which had ignited after he lit a cigarette.