By Neil Woulfe – Radar Senior News Director
Hard-wired smoke alarms had not been hooked up inside the Stamford, Connecticut Victorian home where the three young daughters and parents of New York advertising exec Madonna Badger died in a horrific fire on Christmas morning.
Authorities said Tuesday while there were plans for the alarms, they were not yet working; officials did not know whether battery-operated alarms were being used.
We’re also learning new details about the family’s frantic attempts to escape the burning $1.7 million, five-bedroom, waterfront home – purchased by Badger last year.
Officials Tuesday revealed that Lomer Johnson – Badger’s father and the grandfather of the three girls – died as he tried to save one of the children.
Stamford Fire Chief Antonio Conte said Johnson apparently collapsed on the roof outside the window of a bedroom, where one of the girls – standing on a pile of books so he could reach in and grab her – was trapped inside.
“When he went out the window, that’s when he succumbed and she died just inside the window,” Conte said.
Johnson – who recently played Santa at Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship store in Manhattan – apparently fell through the rafters; the home was being renovated and the family wasn’t supposed to stay there until the work was done and the property was deemed safe.
“He died on the outside, and she died on the inside,” Conte said. “She was right next to him.”
In addition to the three girls and Lomer Johnson dying, his wife ( Badger’s mother) also perished in the fire.
One of the girls who died was found with her grandmother at the bottom of the stairwell between the second and third floors.
Badger and her house guest Michael Borcina – described as her boyfriend – managed to escaped the fire; Borcina had been staying with Badger as she renovated the Victorian home.
Stamford’s fire marshal Barry Callahan said the blaze broke out sometime between 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. on Sunday after the couple went to bed after wrapping Christmas presents. Authorities say Borcina put fireplace ashes in a bag and left it either in or outside a mudroom and trash enclosure attached to the rear of the house. The fire was reported just after 4:40 a.m.
“The fire entered the house quickly and spread throughout the first floor and up two interior vertical openings, trapping the occupants on the upper floors,” Callahan said.
Neighbors were awakened by screams shortly before 5 a.m. and rushed outside to help; the flames, however, were too intense.
Officials said Badger had climbed out a window onto scaffolding and then a flat roof. She was screaming for her children and pointed firefighters to the third floor.
Firefighters climbed to the third floor twice, but the heat and flames were too intense and the girls were not where they thought they would be.
Borcina told investigators he actually had led two of the girls downstairs, but heat from the flames separated them.
Badger, who is separated from her husband, had a 10-year-old and 7-year-old twins. Her parents were visiting for Christmas.
The home was demolished Monday due to the fire damage and safety concerns.