Prosecutors in Connecticut announced Friday they will not file charges in connection with a Christmas Day fire in a wealthy suburb that killed three girls and their grandparents -- a blaze caused by fireplace ashes that had been stashed in a paper bag.
"This is not a decision made easily or lightly," the state attorney for the Stamford-Norwalk judicial district, David I. Cohen, said in releasing a report on the blaze, which enveloped a large home under renovation by the girls' mother, Madonna Badger.
She escaped along with the contractor, Michael Borcina, who was spending the night, after the blaze erupted at about 4:40 a.m.
Her daughters -- Lily, 9, and 7-year-old twins Sarah and Grace -- died, along with Badger's parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson.
Cohen said that in order to press charges, he would have needed to determine that Badger or Borcina intentionally set the fire or disregarded the idea of any danger from the embers before they went to bed at about 4 a.m.
"It stretches belief to think that they would consciously disregard the danger and go to sleep, much less that they would disregard any danger to the Badger children or Mrs. Badger's parents," he said.
The final report, based on months of investigations by police and fire officials, described an idyllic Christmas Eve in the large home, with a fire burning in the fireplace for most of the day until about 8 p.m., when the decision was made to stop feeding it with wood.
After Badger's parents and children went to sleep, she and Borcina went into the garage to wrap gifts until about 3:30 a.m.
When they returned to the house, Borcina filled a paper bag with the fireplace ashes and used his hand to flatten the bag, to show Badger that the ash had cooled and there were no fiery embers left. But shortly after the two went to sleep, the ashes -- placed inside a plastic container in a mudroom -- ignited a blaze that swept through the 116-year-old, three-story home.
Badger, a Manhattan ad executive, had bought the home a year earlier. Both she and her estranged husband, Matthew Badger, have filed lawsuits against the city of Stamford as a result of the blaze.
Matthew Badger's suit alleges that city officials failed to adequately inspect the property during the renovations. Madonna Badger alleges that fire officials erred in tearing down the ruins of the home immediately after the fire, something she says added to her emotional distress and hindered her ability to make insurance claims.
In his report, Cohen said the hasty demolition made it impossible to determine if there were working smoke detectors inside the home.