STAMFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork) — The deadly Christmas Day blaze that killed three children and their grandparents was caused by embers from a fireplace that had been taken to a mudroom or trash enclosure on the first floor, fire officials said Tuesday afternoon.
The fire at the home of Madonna Badger killed her parents and three children. The family was apparently sleeping in the home, and several bedrooms appear to have been on the second floor, where renovations were taking place.
"The area of origin was determined to have been on the 1st floor, rear corner of the house in the immediate area of a mudroom and trash bin enclosure. The fire appears to have been cause by hot fireplace ash and embers, which had been discarded in this area," Stamford Chief Fire Marshal, Barry Callahan, said.
Michael Borcina jumped out of the building and told firefighters that he had led the children down to the second floor. However, the heat of the blaze had apparently driven the children and grandparents back up to the third floor.
"After 37 and a half, 38 years on the job, you're never prepared for anything like that," said Acting Fire Chief Antonio Conte. "Can you be prepared for this? No. Is it our job to do something? Yes."
Lomer Johnson, 71, apparently died trying to save one of his granddaughters. His body was found face down, apparently after stepping out a window onto a temporary structure put up as part of the renovation. The temporary structure couldn't support his weight.
Inside the second-floor window, officials found a stack of books and one of the children.
"It appears that he either was trying to get to his granddaughter from the outside or that he was leading his granddaughter out," Mayor Michael Pavia said.
Conte said 47-year-old Badger was screaming for her kids and told responding firefighters the bedrooms the kids were in.
Firefighters scrambled up to the to the third floor in an effort to save the trapped victims. However, the heat and flames were too intense, and the kids weren't in the rooms when firefighters arrived there. They made another attempt to rescue the kids, but again to no avail.
One fire captain suffered second-degree burns on his face and two other firefighters suffered from smoke inhalation, officials said.
Audio of a number 911 calls regarding the fire was also released.
LISTEN: Stamford Fire 911 Calls
"There's a huge fire at the house next door to us. The whole house is on fire," says one caller."There's three kids and a woman," the caller adds, before her call was cut off.
Officials said portions of the home were in the middle of being renovated and should not have been occupied.
"The house was under construction. And until it was fully occupied, our buildings department will issue a certificate of approval for a resident to be in there. And until that time, we did not do a final inspection. We were not called for a final inspection of the premises," said Ernie Orgera, the Director of Operations for Stamford. "They should not have been in the home unless they had a certificate of approval."
Orgera said there was a hardwired fire alarm system that would've notified Stamford in the event of a fire, but it does not appear that it was connected. Orgera said it was not clear whether or not the home had battery operated smoke detectors.
"I can't imagine waking up one day and having my children and my parents dead in one swoop like that," said Stamford resident Tom Olson. "I don't think I even understand the depth of that pain."
WCBS 880's Peter Haskell In Stamford
The bodies of Badger's three daughters and their grandparents were found on the upper floors.
Conte says it will be some time before his firefighters overcome their own grief.
"Everyone has very young children, this is a very young department," Conte told CBS 2's Jay Dow. "[It's] probably their first fatal fire that they have seen. We're going to evaluate them today and I'm pretty sure a lot of them are going to need counseling for a very long time."
A Facebook page has been set up to express support for the Badger family. Click here for more information.
Lomer Johnson spent his retirement working as a Santa Claus. He had a long career working as a safety chief at a liquor company in Kentucky before he retired.
Johnson and his wife Pauline lived in Southbury, Conn., but were staying with their daughter and grandchildren for Christmas.
"Pauline was very outgoing," said neighbor Barbara Jeffery. "Very vivacious, loving. A great friend."
The day before he died, Lomer Johnson was in costume and greeting children as Santa at the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Midtown.
The home was torn down on Monday after fire officials deemed it unsafe.
Stamford's fire department is currently offering grief counseling for those who were on the scene.
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