Dementia sufferer Sylvia Talbot, of Coniston Road, Oakwell, died on May 23 last year and an inquest, held in Sheffield on Wednesday, was told she had used Zerobase, an emollient which was prescribed to her for use on leg ulcers.
The former psychiatric nurse, who refused to move away from her semi-detached house, was widowed eight years ago when her husband Raymond died, and was cared for by her son, Alex.
The fire, which took hold at about 8.30pm, was discovered by Sylvia’s neighbour, Brett Johnson, who was described as a ‘hero’ at the inquest for his valiant attempt to help the stricken pensioner but was overcome by smoke.
When fire crews from Barnsley, Cudworth and Tankersley stations arrived, they found a knocked-over coal bucket near the settee, which was on fire, and Sylvia in position.
Subsequent resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful and a post-mortem concluded that she died from burns and pulmonary edema due to exposure to fire.
Coroner Katy Dickinson was told that Mrs Talbot had mobility issues and spent most of her time in the house’s living room, sleeping on the settee, and regularly used her coal fire.
Ms Dickinson, who ruled an accidental death, said: “The cream has a high amount of paraffin and Sylvia had used Zerobase for about two years on her legs.
“She slept on the settee and the cream had soaked into its material.
“This significantly contributed to causing a rapid fire, which spread from the coal bucket to the settee. Two 500ml tubs of the cream were found.
“It’s important to warn people about this as although the packets contain warnings about a cream’s paraffin content, it’s something I’m sure some people are not aware of.
“Toxicology tests showed some carbon monoxide present, but this was not a fatal amount. There was soot in Sylvia’s airways, which suggests she was alive during the fire.
“Sylvia sounded like a lovely woman who had a wonderful son, Alex, who was always around to look after her while her neighbour, Mr Johnson, also deserves a lot of praise for his actions.”
Sylvia, who had lived in her home since 1972 and received regular deliveries of free coal as her husband was a former miner, was determined to keep her independence but received care from her son, who spoke to the Chronicle following the inquest.
Alex added: “I would have done anything for my mum and I often ask if there was more I could have done, but I don’t think there is.
“Brett, my mum’s neighbour, always kept an eye on her and was a hero that night, as was his wife.
“They were always there no matter what and are both marvellous people.
“My mum always wanted to live in her own house and did not want to go to a care home. In the last six to nine months of her life she had become more confused and it’s sad she got to that stage as dementia is a horrible disease.
“She always kept two metal buckets by the fireplace, one for the coal and one for the ashes. The one which caused the fire was near the settee and so it must have been knocked over but we’ll never know how.
“I’ve read a lot about emollient creams and heard a number of cases where they have accelerated a fire. The worst thought is that she was alive while the fire was happening.
“I admire both fire and police officers who did their best in what was a tragic accident, but I also want to warn people about the creams as so many people - often elderly - use them.
“Their manufacturers need to come up with something and make them safer.”
The manufacturer of Zerobase, Huddersfield-based Thornton and Ross, lists paraffin and phosphoric acid as ingredients on its website and warns against using it near a naked flame.
“If the product comes into contact with dressings, clothes and bedding, the fabric can be more easily ignited with a naked flame,” the warning said. “You should keep away from fire when using this product.”