Staff at a Waikato rest home are in shock after an elderly resident suffered extensive burns - later dying in hospital - after a cigarette set fire to his clothing.
Hamilton police have launched an investigation in to the death, which occurred at the Cardrona Rest Home and Hospital about 3.30pm on Saturday.
Executive nurse manager Katherine McLeod said yesterday she believed the 71-year-old had fallen asleep while smoking, setting light to his clothing.
He had been a resident of Cardrona for many years, and was understood to be dependent on assistance from staff to get around.
He suffered burns to his head and torso, and died later in Waikato Hospital.
The man is believed to have been smoking in a designated area on the rest home grounds at the time of the accident.
He was wearing day clothes, not pyjamas, Ms McLeod said.
"Staff were alerted by the smell [of the fire]," Ms McLeod said.
"I was not here, but I assume it was pretty horrible."
She said staff put out the fire and immediately administered CPR and first aid.
"We are all sad about what has happened. We are very, very gutted, we all knew him very well and his family."
She was not sure whether any residents had witnessed the accident.
"I am just working out who was there at the time, but I am unsure.
"I don't know if there are any smokers who were out there."
Debriefings had been held throughout the day yesterday, "allowing residents to mourn, grieve the loss", Ms McLeod told the Waikato Times.
"We have allowed everyone to speak, and there has been counselling.
"I have been spoken to also.
"This is the first day of planning, but we are going to hold a service this week at the home," Ms McLeod said.
She was satisfied rest home staff had reacted appropriately when the accident happened.
"Staff responded at the time according to our policies and procedures.
"We have had training around this type of procedure and I am confident that the staff acted according to our policies and procedures.
The woman from St John said that the staff acted appropriately."
There was no damage to any of the hospital's buildings and there were "staff around" at the time of the accident, Ms McLeod said.
Detective Sergeant Ricky Thompson of Hamilton CIB said while police were investigating the incident, they were not looking for anyone else.
The man's name has not been released.
Fire Service fire investigation and arson reduction manager Peter Wilding last night told the Times such accidents were rare, with statistics showing cigarettes responsible for one fire death a year in the past four years.
A glowing cigarette dropped on a woollen jumper would be unlikely to ignite, but a cotton shirt is another story and that could have been a contributing factor in the Putaruru case, Mr Wilding said.
"If [the burning cigarette] is up against something easily combustible and there's something blowing on it and the heat can't get away easily . . . it can well lead to ignition.
"The risk here is you have an elderly gentleman who's not particularly mobile and if something hot has dropped down and he's wearing something readily combustible, like a cotton shirt, with those conditions, then there's the potential."
- Waikato Times