The late Seamus Houlihan
THE inquest into the death of former councillor Seamus Houlihan has been told laundry in the drum of a tumble dryer at his home is likely to have “self-heated” and caught fire after the appliance’s cooling cycle was stopped or interrupted.
The 84-year-old died in the early hours of June 2, 2018 as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation.
Limerick Coroner’s Court was told the alarm was raised shortly before 2am when Mr Houlihan’s son – James – arrived home having been socialising with his partner in the city centre.
He described how the house at Rose Court, Keyes Park, Southill was filled with smoke when he entered. He found his father to be unresponsive in an upstairs bathroom and he was pronounced dead a short time later.
The inquest was told a condenser dryer in the downstairs kitchen was quickly identified as the cause of the fire and that it was taken from the house and technically examined by consultant engineers who were retained by gardai.
A detailed report was prepared and coroner John McNamara read some of the key findings into the record during the inquest.
The engineers’ report stated the risk of laundry “self-heating and subsequent spontaneous combustion” is a known safety risk in the laundry industry – particularly if the cooling phase of a cycle is stopped or interrupted.
While the cause of the fire at Mr Houlihan’s home could not be definitively established the report states the evidence is “consistent” with such a scenario having occurred.
In his evidence, James Houlihan said the lint filter in the dryer was regularly changed and he insisted the dryer was not turned on when he left the house at around 11pm.
“I have gone through every second of that bloody day,” said the former city councillor.
After returning a verdict of accidental death, the coroner said he was concerned that ordinary consumers are not being made aware of the risk of laundry self-heating and catching fire of the cycle is interrupted.
“People generally don't read the small print in booklets,” he commented. “I, for one, didn’t know it was a hazard,” he added.
Mr McNamara said it is hard to know what caused the fire in which Seamus Houlihan died and he said it was not his role to “enter into the realm of civil of criminal liability”.
Making a general recommendation, he suggested the dangers of laundry self heating be highlighted to the public and that warning stickers be placed prominently on such appliances.