Mike Gilliam caught up with Stamford Fire Chief Antonio Conte to get the latest developments regarding the deadly Christmas-morning fire that left five dead and an entire community shaken.
Among the newest developments in the investigation are reports that Lomer Johnson, the grandfather who died along with his three granddaughters and wife, was trying to reach one of the girls when he was overcome by the fire's intensity.
Johnson's body was found on a roof outside one of the girl's bedroom windows. She was found on the other side of the window, Conte said.
It looked like Lomer was trying to get into the bedroom, Conte said. He was within arm's reach of one of his granddaughters.
Conte also said the girl's mother, Madonna Badger, had to be restrained. She survived the fire along with a male companion, but tried to go back into the burning house.
Reports are also emerging about the repeated efforts by Stamford firefighters to reach the children and their grandparents.
The president of Stamford's firefighters union said firefighters on Engine 4, the first pumper to arrive at the fire early Christmas morning, used a ladder to reach a roof, then climbed scaffolding to get into the burning home's third floor.
Badger "was outside … and let the guys know the kids were inside as well as her parents," said Breandan Keatley, the union president.
"They were told the kids were on the third floor," Keatley said. "They went up the scaffolding, broke out a window and entered into the third floor. They went in there and began searching for folks."
Firefighters did remove people from the building, but they had already succumbed, he said.
"They made a super human effort to get in there under difficult and adverse conditions," Keatley said, noting the captain who led the effort suffered second-degree burns to his face. He was one of four firefighters injured battling the blaze.
The heavily damaged Victorian house in Stamford's tony Shippan Point was razed on Monday after city officials deemed it a hazard. Stamford's building department determined that the $1.72 million house was unsafe and ordered it razed, Conte said.
Badger, 47, who bought the large Victorian house last year, and the male companion were the only people to escape the blaze early Christmas morning.
The New York Post reported that the fire may have been caused by fireplaces ashes that were not properly disposed of, although fire officials indicated the investigation was not complete and could take months.
Stamford fire officials plan a press conference for 5 p.m. Tuesday and details about what investigators have determined thus far may be released.
Stamford police Sgt. Paul Guzda said Badger's three daughters — Lily, 10, and 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah — died. He said her parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson of Southbury, who were visiting for the holiday, also died.
A spokeswoman for Saks Fifth Avenue confirmed in a statement that Badger's father had worked as a Santa this year at its flagship store in "He was a really nice guy, laughing, joking," a Saks security guard told the New York Daily News Monday. "We joked with him, 'Hey Santa, don't forget us.'"
Before he retired several years ago, Johnson was the safety chief at Brown-Forman Corp., a liquor maker based in Louisville, Ky. One of his responsibilities included planning fire drills.
"He spent his career trying to keep others safe," retired Brown-Forman executive Robert Holmes Jr. said Monday in a telephone interview. "And the irony is that he dies in a fire."
Johnson and wife, Pauline, would have celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary Monday.
Guzda said the male acquaintance was a contractor who was doing work on the home. The Stamford Advocate reported that the contractor is Michael Borcina, who was taken to Stamford Hospital and remained in stable condition as of Monday afternoon.
Badger was treated and released at Stamford Hospital.
Badger, an ad executive in the fashion industry, is the founder of Badger & Winters Group.
Neighbor Charles Mangano said he saw rescuers walking Badger and the man away from the house toward an ambulance.
"I heard her say 'My whole life is in there,' as she walked out," Mangano said. "They were both obviously in a state of shock."
Neighbors in the Shippan Point neighborhood said they were awakened by screaming and ran outside to see fire consuming the house.
Stamford Fire Chief Antonio Conte said firefighters were called at 4:52 a.m. and arrived to find the house engulfed in flames. The first-arriving firefighters were able to get Badger and Borcina out of the house, but despite several efforts could not reach the five people trapped inside.
"There was so much flame and heat it drove the firefighters back," Conte said. "They tried several times. We knew all five were in there. We just couldn't get to them."
Conte became emotional as he talked about the fire and its heavy toll.
"I've been on this job 38 years," he said. "Not an easy day."
The house was razed around 8 a.m. Monday. The Stamford fire marshal's office has not released the cause of the fire.
Badger bought the three-story, 3,300-square-foot, five-bedroom house that overlooks Long Island Sound in December 2010 for $1.72 million. The house had been undergoing extensive renovations, neighbors said.
The lot where the house once stood was covered with charred debris and cordoned off by police with tape on Monday. Passersby left bouquets, stuffed animals and candles nearby.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a former mayor of Stamford, offered his condolences to Badger and her family in a statement and said her loss "defies explanation."
The fire was Stamford's deadliest since a 1987 blaze that also killed five people, Conte said.
Badger gained fame for Calvin Klein underwear and Obsession perfume ads featuring Kate Moss. She founded Badger & Winters Group at age 30.
Associated Press reports are included in this story.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun