STAMFORD, CT (PIX11)—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.
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.'"
Johnson worked at Saks on Christmas Eve.
"That's all he ever wanted to be," a relative told the The New York Times" href="http://www.courant.com/topic/arts-culture/mass-media/newspapers/the-new-york-times-ORCRP010822.topic">New York Times of Johnson's job working as Santa Claus (fictional character)" href="http://www.courant.com/topic/arts-culture/holidays/santa-claus-%28fictional-character%29-PEFCC000018.topic">Santa Claus. "He stopped shaving the day he retired."
Before he retired several years ago, Johnson was the safety chief at Brown-Forman Corporation" href="http://www.courant.com/topic/economy-business-finance/brown-forman-corporation-ORCRP002320.topic">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."