Slacks Creek house fire resembled furnace, inquest hears
A HOUSE fire could take less than two minutes to completely engulf a furnished room, an inquest was told yesterday.
Forensic expert Brad Bardell said a normal room with soft furnishings was full of potential fuel and could reach "flashover" - the point at which all exposed surfaces reach combustion temperature - in from under two minutes to about six minutes.
Mr Bardell, a former police sergeant and senior forensic investigator with the Queensland Police Service, was giving evidence at the inquest into a midnight fire that took the lives of 11 people in Slacks Creek in 2011.
He told Coroner James McDougall that fire venting from windows and doors downstairs in the two-storey home would have prevented residents from escaping through upstairs windows.
After up to a dozen investigators spent days on hands and knees literally sifting through debris, all indications were that the fire had begun in an office downstairs and quickly spread out and up through the house, burning through the wooden floor above, he said.
Possible ignition sources were a cigarette or a desk lamp in the office which might have been "overlamped" - fitted with a 60W bulb instead of the specified maximum 40W.
He showed the court a video of a test in which he set paper and cardboard smouldering by touching it to a similar lamp.
There was no evidence of another viable ignition source "but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," he said.
Seven of the victims were together in an upstairs bedroom that crashed through the burnt floor, Mr Bardell said.
Teukisia Jeanette Lale, her children Jeremiah, Lini, Jeanette, Selamafi and Richard, Fusi Taufa and daughter Anna Maria Taufa, and grandchildren La'Haina and Kalahnie Taufa and their cousin Adele Lee died in the fire.
Only three got out alive: Tau Taufa, Mark Matauaina and Jeremiah Lale.
Fireman Peter Mountain gave evidence by phone that it was the worst house fire he had seen in his 35-year career. "The interior resembled a furnace," he said.
He knew on arrival there was nothing that could be done to save anyone inside.
The inquest continues.