The Connecticut woman who lost her three daughters and parents in a house fire on Christmas day in 2011 is questioning the official report that fireplace embers caused the deadly blaze.
In an exclusive interview with Matt Lauer that aired on TODAY and NBC's Rock Center, fashion executive Madonna Badger expressed her distrust in the official report — that hot embers from the fireplace placed into a paper bag by her boyfriend, Michael Borcina, were the probable cause of the fire that engulfed the family’s $1.7 million Victorian home in Stamford, Conn. The fire claimed the lives of 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah and 10-year-old Lily, as well as Badger’s parents.Story: Madonna Badger: 'I couldn't get in the window' to save family
Stamford State’s Attorney David Cohen concluded the fire was “most likely caused by the disposal of fireplace ash,’’ in the early hours of Christmas morning. No criminal charges were filed relating to the fire.
“I don't believe that the ashes caused the fire,’’ Badger told Lauer. “So I don't believe that Mike is responsible for starting the fire.’’Video: Madonna Badger: ‘I don’t believe’ ashes caused fire (on this page)
A major source of her skepticism is the fact that her house was ordered by city officials to be torn down a day after the fire before a forensic investigation could be conducted. In the state attorney’s report, he wrote that “regrettably, the structure was demolished before the state fire marshal’s office or any other expert could make an independent examination and determination.’’
“I had an interview with the police and the first question they asked me was, ‘Why did you have your house torn down?’’’ she said. “I said, ‘I didn't have my house torn down. What are you talking about?’
“None of those (investigations) happened, because nobody knows where any of the pieces are.’’Story: Madonna Badger recalls horror of fatal Christmas fire
Upon learning of her home’s demolition, Badger asked authorities if any belongings were salvaged.
“They said, ‘We'll find out,’’’ she said tearfully. “Within a three- or four-day period, they brought a black contractor bag of stuffed animals.’’
Badger said she may have inadvertently introduced the notion that Borcina accidentally started the fire. In a panic, she mentioned the embers when questioned by the fire marshal.
“I said, ‘It must have been the ashes,’’’ she told Lauer. “'There must have been embers. It must have been the ashes.' I'm literally hysterical.’’Video: Madonna Badger: ‘I couldn’t get in’ to save my kids (on this page)
She told investigators that she saw Borcina check the ashes for hot embers and did not say anything despite feeling that it didn’t seem safe to put them in a paper bag, according to the state attorney’s report. The two went to bed, and 40 minutes later, the fire was reported.
Badger believes the old house's electrical system, which was being upgraded at the time of the fire, could be a cause.
“The electrical system in the house was from I don't know when,’’ she told Lauer. “It was all ball and wire and something. All porcelain knobs from the '40s or something. So I was making that house safe. That's what I thought.’’
Hard-wired smoke detectors had been installed but were not yet connected to the home’s electrical system, according to the report. Also, five or six battery-operated smoke alarms had been installed in September when the family moved in. However, when Badger awoke in bed, choking from the smoke, she did not hear an alarm.
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“It was silent,’’ she said. “It was the scariest silence.’’
After she climbed out the window, she said she saw sparks from near the edge of the house to her left. Smoke was coming out of the area where the electricity meter is located, she said.
“How is it that you have a little bit of ashes cause this enormous fire that spread so quickly, with so much smoke, and that the fire and the smoke alarms did not go off?’’ she said. “How is it that they don't save those alarms? Alarms can be tested after the fact. That's what you do in a fire investigation. That's what I've been told.’’Video: Madonna Badger: I knew ‘something bad’ happened (on this page)
No matter the cause of the fire, Badger said she wants an explanation — to know why her family died.
“To honor them with the truth, you know?’’ she said. “I believe they deserve that. I have to live with them being gone every single day. The cause of that fire is important for me to know in order to somehow find some peace.’’
Badger has stood by Borcina, even though friends and family have asked how she could stay with a man whose actions may have led to the tragedy.
“The answer for me is that we were in the fire together,’’ she said. “We were in the fire, and we spent the last night on earth with my three children and my mom and dad, and it was beautiful.”
A fund has been set up in honor of Lily, Sarah and Grace Badger, to support the arts in underfunded public elementary schools across America. You can find more information here.
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