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Hartford, CT - Fatal Conn. Fire Reminds Homeowners Of Ash Dangers

Published on: December 28, 2011 05:55 PM
By: AP
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FILE - In this Dec. 25, 2011 file photo, firefighters spray water on the roof of a house in Stamford, Conn., where an early morning fire left five people dead. The fire that killed three children and their grandparents with astonishing speed and ferocity was sparked by fireplace embers dumped in a bag near the house. As more people turn to alternative heat sources, including wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, experts say it's a reminder that ashes cool to the touch can still harbor danger hours afterward. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg, File)Hartford, CT - Fireplace ashes can be deceiving. Just ask anyone involved in the nearly 11,600 residential building fires in the U.S. each year that federal safety officials say are caused by hot embers or ashes.

It appears that Michael Borcina was among those duped. Fire officials in Stamford, Conn., say a bag of fireplace ashes Borcina left near the back of the home where he was staying caused a fire early Christmas morning that killed his friend’s three children and their two grandparents. Borcina and the mother, Madonna Badger, escaped the blaze after failed attempts to rescue the little girls.

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The fire has led to renewed safety warnings by federal and local authorities.

“What often happens, and it’s a pretty common scenario that we see, is that although the fire may look out, the embers in the ashes may remain hot enough to start a fire for up to 24 hours after the fire is thought to be out,” said Tom Olshanski, a spokesman for the U.S. Fire Administration.

Olshanski and local fire officials in Stamford and other communities urged homeowners this week to put fireplace ashes in a metal container and place it well away from the house. If you leave hot ashes in the fireplace, make sure there’s a metal screen or glass partition in place, they said. And, of course, make sure you have working smoke detectors, they advised.

University of Vermont men’s basketball coach John Becker and his family could have suffered a tragedy similar to the one in Stamford on Tuesday. A construction worker who just happened to be passing by the Beckers’ home noticed it was on fire and woke the family up by knocking on the door around 6:30 a.m.

Burlington’s fire marshal, Terry Francis, said the fire was caused by hot fireplace ashes in a paper bag that was placed on the back porch of the home the night before. Becker, his wife and their daughter escaped.

“We got out of there in the nick of time,” Becker told the Burlington Free Press. “Kenny Roberts was the construction worker who saved us. I can’t thank him enough, and I can’t thank the Burlington Fire Department enough.”

The Fire Safety Administration says there about 374,900 residential building fires in the U.S. every year. Those fires kill more than 2,600 people and injure another 13,000. Cooking is the leading cause, starting 44 percent of the fires.

About 192,700 of yearly residential fires spread beyond the source, and 6 percent of those fires are caused by hot embers or ashes, the Fire Safety Administration says.

And 15 percent of multiple-fatality fires are caused by unintentional or careless actions, the agency says. There are about 250 multiple-fatality fires in the U.S. each year, resulting in an estimated 825 deaths and 200 injuries.

In Stamford, fire officials say they believe Borcina, a 52-year-old construction company owner, left a bag of hot fireplace ashes near the back of the house between 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. The fire was reported just after 4:40 a.m.

Borcina, who left the hospital Wednesday, has declined to comment.

Badger’s three daughters, 10-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah, and her parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson died amid frantic rescue attempts by Borcina, Badger and local firefighters. Borcina and Badger were treated at a local hospital and released.

The Connecticut medical examiner’s office said Wednesday that the victims died of smoke inhalation, and Lomer Johnson also suffered a blunt head and neck injury, possibly from a fall or being hit by an object.

One of the girls, found dead just inside a window, had been placed on a pile of books, apparently so Johnson could reach in and grab her after he jumped out. Instead, authorities say, he fell through the roof.



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Read Comments (5)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Dec 28, 2011 at 07:29 PM OyGevald Says:

My heart goes out to this woman who lost her children and her parents in this terrible tragedy. I can't see how she can maintain a relationship with the man who destroyed her whole world. Absolutely horrifying.

2

 Dec 28, 2011 at 07:48 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
OyGevald Says:

My heart goes out to this woman who lost her children and her parents in this terrible tragedy. I can't see how she can maintain a relationship with the man who destroyed her whole world. Absolutely horrifying.

that is like saying - if he drove a car that carried her children and got into an accident and the children died ... it is all his fault. There are stories of parents accidentally pulling an SUV or minivan out a driveway and not knowing their own toddler was there and running them over. Accidents happen and they are tragic for all involved. I am sure he has his own terrible guilt over this. But committed people see that and don't place blame on someone who did not intend to cause so much destruction and hurt and pain.

3

 Dec 28, 2011 at 10:32 PM MH123 Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

that is like saying - if he drove a car that carried her children and got into an accident and the children died ... it is all his fault. There are stories of parents accidentally pulling an SUV or minivan out a driveway and not knowing their own toddler was there and running them over. Accidents happen and they are tragic for all involved. I am sure he has his own terrible guilt over this. But committed people see that and don't place blame on someone who did not intend to cause so much destruction and hurt and pain.

Unfortunately #1 is correct. Statistics show that even marriages often don't survive such tragedies. Fact is whether his fault or not he was negligent on two counts and she lost her entire life and will reminded of that every time she sees him. Few humans can overcome that and carry on a relationship.

4

 Dec 28, 2011 at 11:41 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #3  
MH123 Says:

Unfortunately #1 is correct. Statistics show that even marriages often don't survive such tragedies. Fact is whether his fault or not he was negligent on two counts and she lost her entire life and will reminded of that every time she sees him. Few humans can overcome that and carry on a relationship.

statistics also show that marriages do not survive the birth of a handicapped or mentally disabled child .... but not because someone is at fault. The marriages do not survive "trauma" period! But #1 was not referring to the possibility of trauma dividing the couple ... #1 wants to see this woman throw her partner to the curb out of blame.

5

 Dec 29, 2011 at 12:11 AM Avreich1 Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

that is like saying - if he drove a car that carried her children and got into an accident and the children died ... it is all his fault. There are stories of parents accidentally pulling an SUV or minivan out a driveway and not knowing their own toddler was there and running them over. Accidents happen and they are tragic for all involved. I am sure he has his own terrible guilt over this. But committed people see that and don't place blame on someone who did not intend to cause so much destruction and hurt and pain.

Grief-stricken people do not necessarily display cold logic.

6

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