Stamford fire caused by fireplace ashes

December 27, 2011 7:58:37 PM PST
The mayor of Stamford, Conn., says it appears the cause of a Christmas Day blaze that killed three children and their grandparents was related to a fireplace in the home.

Officials say the fire in Stamford was an accident caused by hot fireplace embers that were discarded near a first-floor mudroom.

Fire officials also announced they did not believe there were functioning smoke detector system inside the Stamford home at the time of the fire. They were not clear if there were battery operated smoke detectors in the home.

Five people, three children and their grandparents, were killed. Investigators believe that burning embers that were not properly disposed of. Officials say the home may have been burning for an hour or two before firefighters arrived.

Sometime between 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m., a male companion, Michael Borcina, who was staying in the home put fireplace ashes in a bag and left it either in or outside a mudroom and trash enclosure attached to the rear of the house, said Barry Callahan, Stamford's fire marshal. The fire was reported just after 4:40 a.m.

"The fire entered the house quickly and spread throughout the first floor and up two interior vertical openings, trapping the occupants on the upper floors," Callahan said.

There are also reports that the grandfather was standing on one of the home's ledges, trying to save his granddaughter when they were both overcome by the smoke. His body was found outside, while the granddaughter's was found just inside the window he fell out of.

Borcina told investigators he actually had led two of the girls downstairs, but heat from the flames separated them, Conte said. One apparently went back upstairs and another one was found with her grandmother at the bottom of the stairwell between the second and third floors, he said.

After initially saying it might be days until they could get inside the house and look for a cause, officials had the home demolished Monday.

"They finished the technical end of their investigation, and because the house was in such bad condition after the fire, it was deemed that it had to come down," Stamford fire chief Antonio Conte said.

Madonna Badger, 47, and Borcina, who is also a contractor doing work on the house, escaped the fire. Firefighters rescued her from a second-floor landing.

Then they tried, but failed, to save her 10-year-old daughter Lily, her 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah, and her parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson.

Just hours before, Lomar Johnson had been working as Santa Claus at Saks Fifth Avenue in Midtown.

Meanwhile, neighbors brought flowers to honor the family, trying to come terms with it all.

"It's hard to even talk about it," neighbor Jeanne Davis said. "It's just devastating. I think everyone here has a very heavy heart."

Firefighters used a ladder and construction scaffolding outside the house to reach the third floor, but they ran into extreme heat and poor visibility in a hallway, Keatley said. Four firefighters were injured as they searched for the victims, including a captain who suffered second-degree burns on his face, Keatley said.

Fighting the fire took a physical and an emotional toll, he said, and counselors were being made available to firefighters.

"We are devastated, just like everybody else is devastated," Keatley said Tuesday.

(Some information from the Associated Press)

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