Christmas blaze in Connecticut was accidental

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 27, 2011 5:23 PM
Christmas blaze in Connecticut was accidental

(Reuters) - A raging Christmas-morning house fire that killed an elderly couple and their daughter's three young girls in Stamford, Connecticut, appears to have been caused by embers from a fireplace and was accidental, city officials said on Tuesday.

The home's owner, Madonna Badger, 47, a New York fashion advertising executive, and a male acquaintance, a contractor who was renovating the Victorian-style house, survived the blaze early Sunday that destroyed its upper levels that included the children's bedrooms.

Badger's visiting parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson, and Badger's daughters, Lily, 9, and 7-year-old twins, Grace and Sarah, all died in the three-alarm fire in the upscale Shippan Point residential district, Stamford Fire Chief Antonio Conte said at an afternoon press conference.

Foul play has been ruled out, officials said.

The fire ignited on the first floor some time after an occupant removed apparently still-burning fireplace embers and put them in a rear porch trash bin, said Stamford Chief Fire Marshal Barry Callahan.

"The preliminary finding is the fire was accidental in nature," Callahan said.

It was unclear whether the home had working smoke alarms, he said, and the investigation is ongoing.

As flames engulfed the house, numerous firefighters attempted to rescue those trapped in the inferno but were pushed back by intense fire and heat. Four firefighters, including a captain who received second-degree facial burns, were injured.

Conte said some of the victims of the fire also attempted to rescue others, unsuccessfully.

Lomer Johnson, 71, a former safety director at a Kentucky liquor company, was trying to save one of his granddaughters when he was overcome -- his body was found on part of the roof just outside the window of a bedroom where she lay.

Firefighters had to pull Badger away from the still-burning house as she tried urgently to find family members, officials said. She had bought the older home about a year ago and had been renovating it.

On Monday, the still-smoldering home, located near the waterfront on Connecticut's shore on Long Island Sound, was razed. Stamford is located 40 miles northeast of New York City.

Badger is a principal at Badger and Winters Group. Her father, who worked as Santa Claus at Saks Fifth Avenue during his retirement, lived with his wife in a retirement community in Southbury, Connecticut, police said.

(Reporting by Zach Howard; Editing by Lauren Keiper and Jerry Norton)