STAMFORD, Conn. – A woman whose three daughters and parents died in a Christmas Day fire said she considered putting fireplace ashes blamed for the blaze outdoors about an hour before flames swept through the home.
But Madonna Badger said in an interview aired Thursday on NBC's "Today" show that the bag of ashes didn't seem dangerous because her boyfriend, Michael Borcina, ran his hands over them before putting them on top of a plastic bin in a mudroom. She said she glanced at the bag as she walked up the stairs on the way to bed early that morning.
"I remember thinking to myself, 'I should put that outside. I should put that outside,'" Badger said. "Then I remembered thinking, 'No, but I watched him put his hands through it.'"
The fire in Stamford killed 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah Badger, 9-year-old Lily Badger, and their grandparents Lomer and Pauline Johnson.
Badger disputed an Associated Press report that the ashes were taken out of a fireplace so the children would not worry about Santa Claus coming down the chimney. The AP reported on Jan. 3 that the ashes were removed out of concern for Santa, citing two officials briefed on the investigation.
"I don't know where that came from," Badger said.
About an hour after going to bed, Badger awoke to choking smoke and frantically tried to find her children. She climbed up scaffolding that was installed outside the home for a renovation project and opened a window to Grace's bedroom.
"I opened that window and the smoke that hit me was just the blackest ... like an ocean," she said in the interview, in which she broke down crying several times. "There was embers and all kinds of stuff in it."
Badger, a New York City advertising executive, said she tried several times to hold her breath and put her head in the window, but the smoke was too much.
"I couldn't get in the window and I'm just screaming for somebody to help me," she said, adding that she couldn't see Grace or the other girls. "It was the blackest smoke I've ever seen. If I could have seen them, I would have gone in.
"It's impossible to describe how it is that you can't go in and save your own children, but I couldn't get through that smoke. I couldn't," she said.
She said she then saw Borcina — his eyes burned shut — running around the yard yelling for the girls and telling them to jump to him from upper floors. She said firefighters dragged her away from the home for her safety.
Badger was brought to a hospital and said it took three hours for a doctor to tell her that her children had died and her parents probably wouldn't survive, either.
Asked whether the house had working smoke alarms, Badger said, "My understanding was that I had an operable fire and smoke alarms." When she was awoken by the fire, she said she didn't hear any alarms going off.
"Nothing. It was silent," she said.