Faces of twin girls, brother killed in harrowing house fire
Twin five-year-old sisters and their 11-year-old brother perished in the horrific Upper Hunter house fire early this morning, which investigators now suspect may have begun in a combustible fireplace.
Police and fire crews have revealed harrowing details of how heroic residents armed with a garden hose managed to save the children's 31-year-old mother Kara Atkins and their eight-year-old sister Bayley.
Twins Matylda and Scarlett were rescued from the home but were pronounced dead at Singleton Hospital while their brother Blake was found deceased inside the house.
"In the efforts of trying to put the fire out four residents have assisted and removed the mother and an eight-year-old daughter from the house safely," NSW Police Superintendent Chad Gillies said.
Ms Atkins, with burns, and Bayley, suffering smoke inhalation, remain at John Hunter Hospital today.
"I'd like to emphasise the heroic nature of the four residents in the nearby vicinity who tried to assist the people inside the house and importantly got the mother and eight-year-old daughter out," Supt Gillies said.
As fire crews arrived to see the house engulfed by flames and smoke alarms sounding inside, smoke was pouring into two separate rooms where the twin girls were.
Fire and Rescue NSW Superintendent Josh Turner said experts were focusing their attention on a combustible fire place being used at the time.
"Knowing there was a fireplace in the vicinity it will be a major point of investigation," Supt Turner said.
"We're seeing particularly in this area over the last few weeks a large number of fires have been caused through heating appliance and so forth and coming into winter that is a major contributing factor to fires."
He said the fire was too intense to attack it through the front door, so firefighters broke through the windows of the rooms where the little girls were.
Braden Rodgers was one of the heroic people who helped save the mother and her sole surviving daughter.
"I just kicked the door in and tried to get the kids out," he said.
"I got woken up by my partner and then I heard the banging.
"(The mum) was a mess. The daughter, I didn't really see her, I was more paying attention to getting the rest of them out of the house.
"I just got the mother and the daughter who went out. I just couldn't see. I got on my hands and knees and still couldn't see and the flames were coming back to us as we were doing everything else.
"I don't want no praise for it. Any person should do that."
Neighbours today said the mother "had her struggles" like anyone does but cared about her children more than anything.
"It's horrible. We heard screaming and by the time I got clothes on and came out, the house was engulfed. I just I thought it someone being silly at first, I thought what are you doing yelling this time in the morning," a woman named Jodie said.
"She was wailing, the mum was screaming, it was dreadful."
"I heard all the screams by the time I got to the park the roof was collapsing," another neighbour Ben Brabant said.
Neighbour Chantelle said the mother was a "beautiful person".
"We know her, she's a beautiful person, she loved her children dearly. She's a great mum and great person," she said.
She said the 11-year-old boy who died had the nickname "red shorts" because he always wore that colour shorts.
Other neighbours said they called him "bin boy" because he would always offer to take their bins out for them.
"I called him red shorts because of the whole fun thing we had," she said.
"They were actually good little children. I'm still devastated. I'm sick in the gut."
Neighbour Maria Stokes said: "I only spoke to them the other day when they were walking home from school. Poor little darlings, sweet little voices. (We just spoke about) normal kid stuff, talking amongst themselves," she said.
A woman in a neighbouring property said she woke to a woman's screams this morning.
"I heard a lot of screaming … the fire had started and it really roared up through the top of the house," the woman, who did not wish to be named, said.
"I was half awake, I couldn't make out what she was saying but she sounded very upset."
Another neighbour, Rebel Maskey said she knew the family and her community was ready to rally around the woman who lived at the home.
"We're all here for her, (we'll) support her and do whatever it takes to help her rebuild what she can," Ms Maskey said.
A fundraiser that was set up on crowd-funding site GoFundMe on Tuesday morning raised more than $14,000 for the family in just two hours.
The organiser said the money would go towards helping the family with funeral costs during "this terrible time".
"The family will need to rebuild their lives and home, any help will be forever appreciated."
The children attended King Street Public School in Singleton and the Department of Education issued a statement which said counselling would be available for students and teachers.
"The school has expressed its deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the students who died in a house fire last night," a spokesman said.
"Counselling is being provided at the school for students and staff, and the school can assist parents in supporting their children. The support will remain available as necessary.
The family was living in government-owned housing which contained working smoke alarms.
The Department of Family and Community Services refused to answer questions posed by The Daily Telegraph about who was responsible for the maintenance of the device.
Singleton locals used social media this morning to post heartfelt messages to the family.
"Our sincere condolences go to everyone involved - there are not enough words to describe this tragic event - our hearts go out to the parents and surviving children," Kerri Langon wrote.
"We hope they recover from their physical injuries but know that the emotional pain will never leave. RIP beautiful children."
Other members of the community described the deaths as "horrible", "heartbreaking" and "tragic".