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Killer fire started in 'at least two' places; BACKPACKERS: Hotel's burned-out TV room showed evidence of flashover, murder trial told.

THE hostel blaze that killed 15 backpackers including seven Britons, two of them from Wales, probably started in several locations, an expert said yesterday.

Dr John DeHaan, a leading US forensic scientist, is one of the final prosecution witnesses in the trial of drifter Robert Paul Long, 38, who denies arson and murder at the Palace Hostel in Childers, 190 miles north of Brisbane.

He said the blaze started in the television room and spread to other rooms.

"Based on the time intervals and the observations of the behaviour of the fire it was my opinion that the fire started in at least two, possibly several, locations in that room, " Dr DeHaan told Brisbane's Supreme Court.

He said the heat inside the room became so intense that everything, including furniture, wall paint and carpet, burst into flames at the same time.

The trial has already been told a burning bin covered by a lounge cushion was taken out of the TV room before the fire.

A backpacker told the court he removed the smouldering cushion and a man, whom he alerted to the fire, took the bin outside.

A fire broke out a short time later, forcing backpackers to flee from the century-old building.

Dr DeHaan said he found evidence in the TV room of a "flashover", where the build-up of heat and gas became so intense it caused everything to ignite at once.

"It generates enough radiant heat to rise other items in the room to their ignition point, " he said.

Dr DeHaan said a flashover could be described by an onlooker as a room "fully engulfed by flames".

"In this case the floor coverings had been destroyed, the surface of the walls had been attacked to floor level and the windows had signs of flames up the walls outside."

The Britons who died were Sarah Williams, 23, from Aberfan, Natalie Morris, 28, from Cefn Coed, Mike Lewis, 25, from Bristol, Gary Sutton, 24, from Bath, Melissa Smith, 26, from Thatcham, Berkshire, Claire Webb, 24, and Adam Rowland, 19, from England.

Also killed was Irishwoman Julie O'Keefe, 24, from Limerick.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 8, 2002
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