A COUPLE who died in a fire in Filleigh last year were asleep upstairs before the ground collapsed beneath them, an inquest has heard.
Joan Rines, 76, and Robert Rines, 61, lived at Meadow Park Lodge on the outskirts of the Castle Filleigh estate owned by Lord and Lady Arran.
A fire broke out at their property sometime between 9.30pm on June 17 2012 and 2.37am on June 18.
Extensive damage was caused to the property, which was burnt down to the ground floor as a result of the fire.
Evidence was heard at the inquest from Mark Burroughs, a fire investigation officer from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, who suggested the fire had started in the area of a dehumidifier which was in the downstairs living room.
However he said this was not conclusive and he could not say if the appliance had been switched on.
It was heard that the last contact made with Mrs Rines was from her niece during a phone call at around 9.15pm on June 17.
The fire service were first alerted to a fire at the property following a call from a lorry driver, Rodney Evans-Loude, who spotted the flames while driving a mile away.
Mr Burroughs said: "It is difficult to estimate the time of ignition. The fire had been burning for an hour or possibly two before it was discovered.
"Both Mr and Mrs Rines were in the first floor bedroom when the floor collapsed.
"The fire started to the left of the sofa and spread to the curtains and the sofa. The most likely source of the ignition is the de-humidifier."
A statement read out from Mrs Rines's son, Kevin Dodge, described the property his mother lived in to be structurally poor.
He said it was very damp and cold and had mould growing on the walls and added a request had been made for the electrics to be updated.
Evidence was heard at the inquest from Paul Smalley who was responsible for managing buildings with the Castle Filleigh estate.
He mentioned that Meadow Park Lodge was a Grade II listed building erected in 1845 and that it had been rented out by Mr and Mrs Rines since 2005.
He said a domestic visual report had been carried out at the property by James Electricals in April 2009.
A number of observations were made in the report, including that there was no battery in the smoke detector, but Mr Smalley said this detector had not been installed by him.
It was also heard the report covered all 55 properties within the estate and that any recommendations were acted on in order of urgency.
"These works did not need to be done within 12 months," said Mr Smalley. "We knew what we had to do and the further inspections would have been undertaken after that."
A post mortem report was carried out after the fire which suggested both Mr and Mrs Rines died from inhalation of hot gasses and fire smoke.
In her conclusion coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland said: "I am satisfied that some time after 9.30pm on June 17 Mr and Mrs Rines succumbed to fumes from a fire which started in the area of a de-humidifier in the lounge of Meadow Park Lodge."
The verdict of accidental death was given in relation to the couple.
Lady Arran paid tribute to the couple, saying: "We were deeply fond of them and they will be remembered forever. We will be planting a memorial to them near the lodge within the trees."