A HOUSE fire on New Year’s Eve which killed an Ambleside artist was ‘most likely’ caused by a halogen heater, an inquest heard.

Father-of-four Richard Durkin died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the kitchen of his Bridge Street home in the early hours of the morning.

The 63-year-old was found by firefighters near the sink with the tap running, leading them to believe he tried to tackle the blaze himself before being overcome by fumes.

Station Manager and Fire Investigator Conrad Leather said the most likely cause of the fire was a halogen heater which was on in the kitchen and had been left close to other items like CDs and clothing.

Mr Leather said the fire had probably been smouldering for some time before the kitchen door was opened by Mr Durkin.

“It looks as though the door opening gave the fire the oxygen it needed to flare up.”

Emergency services were called at 7.30am after staff at a nearby guesthouse raised the alarm.

Mr Durkin, who worked as a painter and decorator, had spent the previous evening finishing a painting he was working on.

The inquest heard that he had a high level of alcohol in his blood at the time of his death.

“He was in his own home and this was perfectly normal,” said Coroner Ian Smith. “But it is relevant for two reasons.

“It would have made it more likely that the fire would go on for longer before Mr Durkin became aware of it, and it would have made his reaction to the fire once he was aware of it slower than if he was stone cold sober.

“Mr Durkin appears to have tried to sort things out himself but the fire service would always advise people to get out straight away if they become aware of a fire.”

Mr Durkin shared the Ambleside cottage with his partner of 18 months Julie Breen, who described waking up to someone calling her name.

“First I heard the smoke detector going off, then I saw the smoke and I remember running through the house shouting ‘Richard’.”

Ms Breen was forced to go outside before reaching the kitchen as large quantities of black smoke spread through the property.

She also described how Mr Durkin would always stand near the window to smoke because ‘he had a fear of fire’.

A verdict of accidental death was recorded.