Last Christmas, the town of Stamford, Connecticut was stunned when a Victorian home burned down, killing three children and their grandparents. The home was owned by the children's mother, Madonna Badger, who survived the fire with her boyfriend, Matthew Borcina; it turned out the fire was started because Borcina didn't fully extinguish embers from the fire.

The victims: Lomer (dressed as Santa Claus) and Pauline Johnson, with grandchildren Lily, Grace and Sarah

Badger, who had celebrated the Christmas Eve with daughters Lily, 9, and 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah; her parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson; and Borcina (a contractor who had been overseeing the home renovations), desperately tried to save the children. She told the Stamford Advocate recently, "I tried to hold my breath and put my head into the smoke and toward the flames. It was the blackest smoke -- that black, sooty, horrible thing. It was hot and every time I put my head in, I would get singed."

Stamford Fire Chief Antonio Conte said the firefighters "made a very aggressive attack on rescue. They were pushed back by the intense heat and flames. A second rescue attempt was made by the same crew. They pushed in again, and again they were pushed back by the intense heat and flames." When they realized the second floor was "completely compromised" and building had "shifted," Conte said, "We had to pull everybody out because we had 16 people inside."

"Our goal is to save lives. To lose five -- that was really, really hard," Conte explained. He added, "Normally after every large fire what we do is called an after-action report. We go over all the steps that each unit took and see if there's a way to improve on things. We have yet to -- we tried -- and we just can't get through this one. The guys just break down, and it's too painful."

While no criminal charges were filed, Madona Badger has noted her intentions to sue the city of Stamford, which had inspected the home during the renovations and then tore it down after the fire (the city claimed it was dangerous). But she said, "I don't feel like this is about anything that has to do with the brave men that showed up to fight the fire and try to save my family." The former fashion advertising executive also told the Today Show that she would be spending Christmas in an orphanage in Thailand and that she has visions of her children, "I’m going to pray and meditate and be with my kids and love them and do the very best I can."

Badger's ex-husband, Matthew Badger, and the fire were recently the subject of a New York magazine feature, which suggested that Borcina's renovations were not up to code, "Matt has filed suit against Borcina for a pattern of incompetence and negligent building practices—were it not for Borcina, the suit contends, his children would still be alive. He’s named the City of Stamford as co-defendant, for the premature teardown and inadequate building inspection. He has not sued Madonna. He believes she is suffering enough."