NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Smoldering embers blamed for a Christmas morning house fire that killed three girls and their grandparents had been taken out of a fireplace so the children would not worry about Santa Claus coming down the chimney, two officials told The Associated Press Tuesday.
Two officials briefed on the investigation say the ashes were removed out of concerns for Santa. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the investigation is still under way.
Authorities say embers in a bag of discarded ashes started the blaze in Stamford that killed 10-year-old Lilly and 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah Badger and their grandparents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson.
The girls' mother, Madonna Badger, escaped the fire along with a friend, Michael Borcina. Borcina and Badger were treated at a local hospital and released.
Fire officials have said Borcina is believed to have placed the ashes in or outside an entryway, near the trash.
A funeral service will be held Thursday in New York City for the girls.
The victims died of smoke inhalation. Lomer Johnson also suffered a blunt head and neck trauma, which resulted 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.
Stamford police are helping fire officials investigate the blaze. Police said Monday officials want to know if there were smoke alarms, the status of renovation work in the house and whether the contractor had permits.
The issue of permits could figure in the investigation because the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection has said that neither Borcina nor his company, Tiberias Construction Inc., was registered to perform home improvement work in Connecticut.
Contractors are required to register with the state, though numerous building and other permits are issued by local officials.
The agency said it did not yet have enough information about what work may have been done or completed and would not comment on whether it will investigate.
Facebook messages have been left for Borcina. Repeated attempts to contact him by telephone since the fire have been unsuccessful.
Stamford authorities deemed the house unsafe following the fire and ordered it torn down the day after the fire.
Fire Chief Antonio Conte said the fire was Stamford's deadliest since a 1987 blaze that also killed five people.