The Stamford, Connecticut home where three young children and their grandparents died in a Christmas Day fire was razed yesterday. The structure was deemed unsafe by the buildings department and was demolished after fire officials examined the house one last time. And while the fire department has not determined the official cause of the fire, it's suggested that embers from a yule log on the first floor may have started the blaze which quickly reached the other floors.
The $1.725 million home was purchased by fashion branding executive Madonna Badger, and she had moved there from Manhattan with her three daughters: Lily, 9, and 7-year-old twins Sarah and Grace. On Christmas Eve, Badger, her daughters, her boyfriend, contractor Michael Borcina reportedly had been overseeing the home's extensive, months-long renovations, and her parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson, were gathered for festivities. The Daily News reports, "Badger and her boyfriend were up doing last-minute holiday prep until about 3 a.m., according to the emergency worker. They loaded the embers into a container and placed the still-smoldering remains inside a foyer before heading to bed. Investigators suspect the blaze started at that location."
The Post also mentions the yule log, but suggests the embers were outside the house: "Officials believe that the ashes may still have been smoldering when they were left outside the 100-year-old home and that gusts of wind may have blown them against the side of the building, said the source, who is familiar with the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity. 'Someone dumped the ashes outside without making sure they were fully put out,' the source said. 'Then the wind picked them up and blew them onto the house.'"
The fire department received calls about the fire around 4:52 a.m., but by the time they arrived, the fire was too intense—firefighters repeatedly tried to go into the house but were thwarted by flames. Badger and Borcina were able to escape—the pair had tried to save the kids and Borcina had to be restrained from going back into the hosue—her daughters and parents were killed. Stamford officials will be having a press conference at 5 p.m. to discuss more details, but they did reveal that Lomer Johnson's body was was found on a second floor roof, on part of the home that was being renovated, and inside the room was one of his granddaughters. Acting Fire Chief Antonio Conte said, "He must have been leading her out or trying to take her out, but he never made it out." The Stamford Advocate said, "The bottom of Johnson's feet were burned, and Conte said Johnson likely made his last step through the window and was killed by super heated gases, smoke and fire from the inferno."
Conte said when firefighters arrived they found Madonna, who moved into the house a year ago this past Thanksgiving, stranded on a scaffolding on the second floor of the house. Badger was reportedly trying to reach her daughters by climbing up the scaffolding.
Madonna directed firefighters to the third-floor cupola, where fire Capt. Mark Shannon and other firefighters climbed the scaffolding and made their way into two rooms without finding anyone.
Shannon, who received second-degree burns on his face, and the firefighters tried again and were pushed back.
Pauline Johnson's body was found on the stairs between the second and third floors, while the bodies of the two other girls were found in another room on the second floor. Conte has not commented about reports about the yule logs' embers and also said he didn't know whether the home had smoke detectors.
The Johnsons had moved to Southbury, CT five years ago from Kentucky to be closer to their granddaughters. After retiring from Brown-Forman as its safety director, Lomer Johnson became a Santa Claus performer and was most recently Santa at Saks Fifth Avenue. A Saks spokeswoman sid, "Mr. Johnson was Saks Fifth Avenue's beloved Santa, and we are heartbroken about this terrible tragedy," and workers recalled how he stayed in character, even during lunch. His former boss told the AP, "He spent his career trying to keep others safe. And the irony is that he dies in a fire."
Borcina is still in a hospital while Badger was released yesterday. Badger, was estranged from her husband and the father of her daughters, Matthew Badger, who still lives in New York and was driven to the tragic site by Stamford police. His nephew told the Post that the girls were “just incredibly sweet and really magical... Lily was a little more quiet, a little more reserved than her sisters. The twins just kind of seemed to bounce off each other, I suppose. They just seemed to be like one person, almost. It’s really so sad to see them all suffer this fate."