Old fireplace embers caused deadly CT fire - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Old fireplace embers caused deadly CT fire

(AP) - Two of the little girls who died in a house fire Christmas morning lost their way as a family friend tried to lead them to safety. A third died just feet from escape. Outside, their mother frantically tried to direct firefighters.

Authorities on Tuesday described that chaotic scene that killed the sisters and their grandparents, saying embers in a bag of discarded fireplace ashes started the accidental fire.

"We are devastated, just like everybody else is devastated," said Brendan Keatley, a firefighter who was at the scene.

There were two survivors: the girls' mother and a family friend who had worked on the home as a contractor and is believed to have placed the ashes in or outside an entryway, near the trash.

Embers from a fireplace can remain hot enough to start a fire as long as a day later, said Thomas Olshanski, spokesman for the U.S. Fire Administration, an agency that handles fire data collection.

As the home burned, Madonna Badger climbed out a window onto scaffolding, screaming for her children and pointing to the third floor.

Heat and poor visibility in a hallway turned the firefighters back, Keatley said.

The family friend, Michael Borcina, told firefighters that he had taken two girls to the second floor, but they got separated because of the heat. Firefighters returned to the second floor but again were forced out by the fire's intensity.

One of the girls, found dead just inside a window, had been placed on a pile of books, apparently so her grandfather, Lomer Johnson, could reach in and grab her after he jumped out.

Instead, authorities say, he fell through the roof and was found dead in the rear of the house.

He and his wife, Pauline, had been visiting for the holidays.

Four firefighters were injured, Keatley said.

Badger was treated at a hospital and was discharged by Sunday evening, a hospital supervisor said. Her whereabouts Tuesday were unknown.

Borcina was in fair condition Tuesday at Stamford Hospital and declined to comment through a hospital spokeswoman.

Lomer Johnson had worked as a department store Santa Claus this season after a long career as a safety chief at Louisville, Kentucky-based liquor maker Brown-Forman Corp., from which he retired several years ago.

Badger is the founder of New York-based Badger & Winters Group. She was treated at a hospital and was discharged by Sunday evening, a hospital supervisor said. Her whereabouts Tuesday were unknown.

Borcina owns Tiberias Construction Inc., which renovates expensive homes and businesses. The company's projects have included a Donna Karan store and artist Alex Beard's studio, both in New York City, and the White House Christmas wishing tree, according to the construction firm's web site.

According to the Department of Consumer Protection, Borcina was registered for a brief time more than 10 years ago, but neither Borcina nor his company, Tiberias Construction Inc., are currently registered to perform home improvement work in Connecticut.

Property records show Badger bought the five-bedroom Victorian home for $1.7 million last year. The house was situated in Shippan Point, a wealthy neighborhood that juts into Long Island Sound.

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