STAMFORD, Conn. – A fire tore through the home of an advertising executive in a tony neighborhood along the Connecticut shoreline Sunday, killing her three children and both of her parents on Christmas morning.
Madonna Badger and a male acquaintance were able to escape from the house as it was engulfed by flames, said Stamford Police Sgt. Paul Guzda. But Badger's three daughters — a 10-year-old and 7-year-old twins — perished in the fire, Guzda said.
He said Badger's parents, who were visiting for the holiday, also died.
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."
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.
Property records show she bought the five-bedroom, waterfront Victorian 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.