STAMFORD, Conn. — There will be no criminal charges filed in the fire that killed three girls and their grandparents in a home in Stamford's Shippan Point neighborhood on Christmas morning, State's Attorney David Cohen announced Friday.
But city of Stamford officials were criticized by Cohen, who said they hampered the investigation by demolishing the Shippan Avenue home before state fire marshals could join the investigation.
"Before relinquishing the scene, the local fire marshal should notify the State Fire Marshal’s Office and give them an opportunity to assist with the investigation, so that a second opinion as to cause and origin could be obtained. This will allay any doubts as to cause and origin," Cohen said in a report posted on the State's Attorney's website.
The home was owned by Madonna Badger, whose three daughters, Lilly, 10, and twins Sarah and Grace, 7, died in the fire. Badger's parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson, also died. Both Badger and her estranged husband, Matthew Badger, have said they plan to sue the city of Stamford.
The city stands by its investigation, Mayor Michael Pavia said in a statement Friday.
"The city of Stamford and its officials conducted a complete investigation and determined the cause of the fire to be accidental in nature," Pavia said. "Furthermore, the city determined that the dwelling was in imminent danger of collapse and therefore demolished."
Investigators said the fire was started around 4:30 a.m., Christmas Day, by embers in a bag of fireplace ashes that Badger's friend, Michael Borcina, placed in a mud room.
"It is my opinion that there is insufficient evidence to establish that either Mrs. Badger or Mr. Borcina were aware of and consciously disregarded a risk that there was a possible live ember in the ash that could result in a catastrophic fire," Cohen wrote.
Borcina shoveled the ashes from the fireplace into a plastic bag and smoothed them out. Madonna Badger told investigators this convinced her there were no live embers in the ashes, Cohen wrote.
Madonna Badger has notified the city she plans to sue because the destruction of the home ruined evidence. Matthew Badger's claim says the city should not have let the three girls live in the home, which was under construction.
Cohen also investigated whether smoke detectors were working in the home but came to no conclusions. The home was required to have hard-wired smoke detectors at the time of the fire, he said.
"These 'hard-wired' detectors were physically installed but had not yet been connected to the electrical system and were, therefore, not functioning," Cohen wrote. "It is also clear that at the end of September, shortly after the Badgers moved into the house, 5 or 6 battery operated smoke detectors were purchased and installed."
Neither the survivors of the fire nor any neighbors reported hearing fire alarms, Cohen said.