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Family's rescue efforts fell short in fire that killed 5 on Christmas

Two of the little sisters who died in a furious house fire early Christmas morning lost their way as a family friend tried to lead them to safety.

Their other sister died just feet from escape, trapped inside as her grandfather perished during his rescue attempt.

Outside, their mother frantically tried to direct firefighters to her doomed family.

Authorities on Tuesday described that chaotic scene of frantic, futile attempts to save the three girls and their grandparents after embers in a bag of discarded fireplace ashes started the fire at the grand waterfront house, which was being renovated.

"We are devastated, just like everybody else is devastated," said Brendan Keatley, a Stamford firefighter who was at the scene.

Of the seven people in the home, there were only two survivors: the girls' mother, a New York City fashion advertising executive, and a family friend who had worked on the home as a contractor and is believed to have placed the ashes in or outside an entryway, near the trash.

Flames quickly entered the house, spread throughout the first floor and jumped upstairs, trapping the girls, the grandparents, the mother and the contractor, the city fire marshal said.

As flames shot from the home, Madonna Badger climbed out a window onto scaffolding, screaming for her children and pointing to the third floor.

Firefighters used a ladder and construction scaffolding outside the house to reach the third floor, but heat and poor visibility in a hallway turned them back, Keatley said.

The family friend, Michael Borcina, told firefighters that he had taken two girls to the second floor but that they got separated because of the heat. Firefighters then returned to the second floor but were forced out by the blaze's intensity.

Somebody else also was trying to save the girls -- their grandfather, Lomer Johnson. One of the girls, found dead just inside a window, had been placed on a pile of books, apparently so Johnson could reach in and grab her after he jumped out.

Instead, authorities say, he fell through the roof outside the window and was found dead in the rear of the house.

He and his wife, Pauline, both of Southbury, had been visiting their daughter for the holidays. The grandmother also died in the fire along with 10-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah.

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