THE loss of a “selfless” father who died in a flat fire has left a “huge void” in the lives of his family.

The bodies of Paul Preston, 61, and his dog, Jess, were recovered from a smoke-logged flat in Langham Drive, Clacton, in January.

Mr Preston, who lived with his son and best friend James, was discovered by firefighters after a neighbour spotted smoke and raised the alarm.

At an inquest held yesterday at Chelmsford Coroner’s Court, senior coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray concluded he died of smoke inhalation.

Lee Hurst, watch manager and fire investigator, said the fire was likely to have been sparked by a portable halogen heater.

The flames consumed a number of DVD cases, which in turn added to the toxicity of the fumes.

“Looking around the flat he had an interest in music, by the looks of things playing as well as listening to it,” he said.

“There were large collections of DVDs, vinyl music as well as CDs and cassettes.”

While Mr Hurst said the heater and an extension cable marked the origin of the fire, he could only list possibilities as to how the fire started.

“From previous experience people will put clothes in front of such heaters to try and dry them quickly,” he said.

“We did find evidence of a fleece-type blanket in front of it. It is possible it was knocked over and the cut-off switch was failing to operate.”

He added: “Potentially the dog has come along and knocked it over or dragged the fluffy blanket towards it.

“There is no evidence to support any of these, with the evidence we found it is not possible to pinpoint the cause.”

The inquest heard Mr Preston was born in Paddington, Westminster. In April, his family visited London on what would have been his 62nd birthday.

Daughter Evie said: “We celebrated by getting together in his birthplace to have a drink and reminisce.

“We miss him very much and it has ripped a huge void in our lives.”

Mr Preston, who had lived in the flat for 15 years and had worked as a self-employed painter and decorator, was known to many as a “kind and humble” man.

Following a previous fire, he received treatment for smoke inhalation after helping families to exit the building safely.

Mrs Beasley-Murray recorded Mr Preston died as a result of an accident.