No cause yet for deadly Conn. house fire

STAMFORD, Conn. - A house severely damaged in a Christmas morning fire that killed three children and two grandparents -- one of whom worked as Santa Claus at Saks Fifth Avenue -- has been torn down.

The building department determined that the $1.7 million house was unsafe and ordered it razed, Stamford fire chief Antonio Conte said.

The home's owner, advertising executive Madonna Badger, and her male acquaintance escaped from the fire. But Badger's three daughters — a 10-year-old and 7-year-old twins — and her parents, who were visiting for the holiday, died, police said.

Woman loses parents, 3 kids in Christmas fire

Neighbors said they awoke to the sound of screaming shortly before 5 a.m. Sunday and rushed outside to help, but could do nothing as flames devoured the large, turreted home.

Police said the male acquaintance who escaped the blaze with Badger was a contractor working on the home. He was also hospitalized but his condition was not released.

"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."

Police officers drove Badger's husband, Matthew Badger, from New York City to Stamford on Sunday morning. The New York Times reported Monday that the Badgers had begun divorce proceedings, but have an amicable relationship.

Interviews with them will be finished Monday, Conte said. He had no details on the investigation.

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

"Mr. Johnson was Saks Fifth Avenue's beloved Santa, and we are heartbroken about this terrible tragedy," spokeswoman Julia Bently said.

A family member told the Times that the role was a dream job for Johnson and that his wife Pauline Johnson had spent Christmas Eve at the store with him, updating the family by phone. The Johnsons had moved to the New York area to be closer to their grandchildren, the Times reported, and were to celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary Monday.

Badger, an ad executive in the fashion industry, is the founder of New York City-based Badger & Winters Group. A supervisor at Stamford Hospital said she was treated and discharged by Sunday evening. Her whereabouts Monday was unknown.

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.

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

The lot where the house once stood was covered with charred debris and cordoned off by police with tape on Monday. Passers-by left bouquets, stuffed animals and candles nearby.

Connecticut 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.

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