A LIT cigarette was revealed to be the most likely cause of an explosion which killed a group of workers at an illegal vodka distillery in Boston last year.
An inquest into their deaths last week heard how experts believe vapours in the air may have been ignited by a spark when a cigatrette was lit inside the industrial unit where the explosion occured.
The blast killed five Lithuanian nationals and left another severely injured. All were from the Peterborough area, but travelled to Boston.
A post mortem revealed that the men – Vaidas Krupenkinas, 39, Ovidijus Mejeris, 26, Laimutis Simkus, 32, Ricardas Gecas, 23, and Erlandas Duzinskas, 18 – would have died almost instantly, after inhaling a lethal amount of the toxic fumes.
At Friday’s inquest, survivor Rytas Gecas, who suffered severe burns and spent months in hospital recovering, said the six men would often smoke at the Broadfield Lane Industrial Estate units despite being aware of the risks of sparking up near alcohol. He added that he thought somebody had lit a cigarette just before the explosion happened.
Three of the men were also revealed to have high levels of alcohol in their blood.
Fire crews discovered ‘significant quantities’ of cigarette ends inside the unit during investigations following the fire on July 13. Ian Woods, deputy divisional officer from Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue, added that the explosion was probably caused after a barrel of alcohol was ignited after the fire started.
Witness James Dix, who runs a kick-boxing gym in a nearby unit, said he heard a small bang before heading out to investigate.
He added: “I saw smoke coming out from the top of the building and then started to see flames coming from the main door. A small door burst open and a man came walking over towards where we were. He was completely naked so I gave him my jogging bottoms and sat him down.”
Mr Dix said he had no idea the unit had been occupied, or that it was used for illegal activity.
When the ambulance arrived, Mr Gecas told the paramedics in broken English that he and his friends had been working on a car, the inquest was told. However, he claimed he did not know the work being carried out in the unit was illegal.
Mr Gecas added that as soon as the fire started all the men ran into the back room. He ran to the pedestrian entrance at the front of the building, but Mr Woods said it did not look like the others tried to escape.
He added: “They had fallen where they stood. They succumbed rapidly to the conditions.”
At the inquest at Spalding Magistrates’ Court coroner Maureen Taylor recorded a verdict of accidental death for the five men.
She said: “They all smoked inside the unit, sometimes while actually working, and just didn’t consider the dangers. I don’t know how the fire started, whether it was from a cigarette, who smoked that cigarette, or where.
“The only certainty was that illegal activities were being carried on in unit eight at the time.”