Back Boiler’s Frozen Pipes Responsible for Fatal House Explosion

30th Jun 2011

A back boiler blew up due to frozen pipes brought on by extreme cold weather, which caused a huge explosion to rip through a bungalow, resulting in the accidental death of an 84-year-old woman.

An inquest heard yesterday how the blast killed Katherine Bates almost instantly, and injured her 47-year-old daughter-in-law, Estelle Eaton, who was taken to hospital but has since made a full recovery. Mrs Bates and Ms Eaton had arrived at the property around 3.30pm on December 20, where they were due to be joined by other family members to celebrate Christmas.

Family friend Michael Manley had been looking after the empty property in the month that is had been unoccupied, and had attended the property earlier that morning to light the fire in the living room, which the back boiler was fitted behind, so the bungalow would not be too cold for when the women arrived.

Ms Eaton, a social work lecturer from Durham, told the inquest it was -7C when she and Mrs Bates arrived at the property, and when they went into the house, they made their way into the living room.

“The fire was on, but it was still cold,” she said. “I was sat a few feet to the side of the fire and Katherine was perched on the coffee table directly in front of it and within a minute of us going into the room, there was a very big explosion.”

The blast was so severe that it ripped off the bungalow’s chimney top and roof tiles and damaged the internal structure of the building. The inquest heard that the cause of the blast was frozen pipes connected to the back boiler, which had become blocked due to the cold weather and lack of activity at the house in the month before the explosion. This had turned the boiler into a “sealed container” and as the water became heated, the steam had nowhere to escape, which led to a ruptured boiler and the fatal explosion.