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Stamford fire believed started by fireplace embers

December 26, 2011 8:01:19 PM PST
An advertising executive's three daughters and parents were killed in a fire at her home along the Connecticut shoreline Sunday.

Stamford police say Madonna Badger's Victorian house in Stamford was engulfed by flames shortly before 5 a.m. Christmas morning. Killed were Badger's daughters - a 10-year-old and 7-year-old twins - and her parents, who police say were visiting for the holiday.

Fire Marshals believe this fire was accidental.

According to a source, investigators believe the fire was caused by embers from a fireplace.

They were able to get inside the home and recover much of what they needed for their investigation before the $1.7 million home was demolished.

They had to take it down because the walls of the building were about to cave in from the damage.

A source tells Eyewitness News the fire was burning for about an hour before anyone realized it.

The home's owner, advertising executive Madonna Badger, and her male acquaintance escaped from the fire. Stamford fire chief Antonio Conte said Monday says interviews with them will be finished Monday.

A spokeswoman for Saks Fifth Avenue confirmed in a statement that the father, Lomer Johnson, had worked as a Santa this year at its flagship store in Manhattan.

Badger is an ad executive in the fashion industry and the founder of New York City-based Badger & Winters Group.

The fire remains under investigation.

Neighbors awoke to the sound of screaming shortly before 5 a.m. and rushed outside to help, but they could only watch in horror as flames devoured the grand home in the pre-dawn darkness and the shocked, injured survivors were led away from the house.

"It is a terrible, terrible day," Mayor Michael Pavia told reporters at the scene of the fire. "There probably has not been a worse Christmas day in the city of Stamford."

Property records show she bought the five-bedroom, waterfront home for $1.7 million last year. The house is situated in Shippan Point, a wealthy neighborhood that juts into Long Island Sound.

The male acquaintance who also escaped the blaze was a contractor who was doing work on the home, Guzda said. He was also hospitalized but his condition was not released.

Police officers drove Badger's husband, Matthew Badger, from New York City to Stamford on Sunday morning. Badger's parents lived in Southbury, Conn., Guzda said.

Firefighters knew there were other people in the home but could not get to them because the flames were too large and the heat too intense, said Acting Fire Chief Antonio Conte, his voice cracking with emotion.

"It's never easy. That's for sure," he said. "I've been on this job 38 years ... not an easy day."

Conte said fire officials don't yet know the cause of the blaze and likely won't get clues for a few days until fire marshals can enter the structure.

By Sunday evening, the roof of the blackened house had largely collapsed.

A neighbor, Sam Cingari Jr., said he was awakened by the sound of screaming and saw that the house was engulfed by flames.

"We heard this screaming at 5 in the morning," he said. "The whole house was ablaze and I mean ablaze."

Cingari said he did not know his neighbors, who he said bought the house last year and were renovating it.

Charles Mangano, who lives nearby, said his wife woke him up and alerted him to the fire. He ran outside to see if he could help and saw a number of fire trucks in front of the house.

"I heard someone yell 'Help, help, help me!' and I started sprinting up my driveway," Mangano told The Advocate of Stamford.

He told the newspaper he saw a barefoot man wearing boxers and a woman being taken out of the house. The outdoor temperature at the time was below freezing, according to the National Weather Service.

The woman said, "My whole life is in there," Mangano said. "They were both obviously in a state of shock."

Stamford, a city of 117,000 residents, is about 25 miles northeast of New York City.

Badger was the creative mind behind major advertising campaigns for leading fashion brands, including the iconic Marky Mark underwear ads for Calvin Klein.

Raised in Kentucky, Badger began her career working as a graphic designer in the art department of Esquire magazine. Before starting her own company, she worked as an art director for several magazines and CRK, the in-house advertising agency for designer Calvin Klein.

Badger & Winters has worked with Proctor & Gamble, CoverGirl, A/X Armani Exchange, Emanuel Ungaro and Vera Wang, among other high-profile corporations. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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