The head of Fire and Rescue NSW has pleaded with communities across the state to be vigilant and take precautions to avoid fire dangers in homes following the heartbreaking death of three children in Singleton overnight.
FRNSW Commissioner Paul Baxter said there had been five deaths in four days from fires and 91 fire incidents since the start of winter (June 1).
"Today's fire in Singleton in the NSW Hunter Valley is a tragic reminder of the harsh reality of the importance of fire safety in Australia's winter months,'' Mr Baxter said.
''Our firefighters prepare themselves for winter as emergency house calls rise.
''Too often they are called to home fires sparked by overloaded powerboards, frayed cords, and the overheating and misuse of heating appliances and equipment.
"We don't want these statistics to continue to climb and therefore we're making an urgent plea to the community to take extra care during this cold, damp spell.''
At Singleton, three siblings died when the Atkins family home went up in flames leaving the local community shocked and devastated.
Twins Matylda and Scarlett and their older brother Blake, died in the fire while neighbours and emergency crews valiantly tried to save them from the inferno.
Emergency services received numerous triple-0 calls to the property on Brittliffe Close about 3.30am Wednesday.
On arrival at the scene crews found the house well alight, with neighbours trying to douse the flames with garden hoses.
The roof of the home had collapsed in the blaze and several people were trapped inside.
A 31-year-old mother Kara Atkins and eight-year-old Bayley were rescued by neighbours and treated by paramedics at the scene for smoke inhalation, before being taken to John Hunter Hospital.
Both remain in a stable condition and are receiving treatment for burns.
There were grave concerns for Blake, with crews searching for the missing 11-year-old boy for some time. In tragic news, the young boy was found deceased inside the property.
Police have since confirmed that two girls, twins Matylda and Scarlett aged five, were rescued by fire fighters and taken to Singleton Hospital, but were pronounced dead as a result of their injuries.
The community has already started rallying around the family as news of the fire spreads. Family friend Caitlyn Stemmer has setup a GoFundMe account to give Kara, the children's father Chris and young Bayley some financial support during the tough time.
"I can't believe it," she said.
"They are a very loving family, caring and Kara has always been a good mum who would help out anyone who needed it.
"The kids' father Chris works away on the rail. It is just heartbreaking.
"The family will need to rebuild their lives and home, any help will be forever appreciated."
Ms Stemmer said those who knew the family were in disbelief when they woke to the news that one child was lost, but as the horror of the situation progressed and they were told three children were gone it was devastating.
"The twins already faced difficulties when they were born," she said.
"It is just devastating that it would happen to this family."
The children attended King Street Public School and the school has acted quickly to provide support to local students during this challenging time.
"The school has expressed its deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the students who died in a house fire last night," a statement 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."
Be fire safe
Fire and Rescue NSW urges the community to take some simple steps to ensure homes are safe from fire danger:
- Never ever leave cooking unattended and always remember to Keep Looking When Cooking. If possible, keep a fire extinguisher and fire blanket handy in the kitchen
- Keep everything - furnishing, curtains, clothing - one metre away from your heater.
- Do not overload your power boards with these extra winter appliances - such as heaters, electric blankets and dryers
- Ensure flues and chimneys are regularly cleaned.
- Strong fire screens should be set up in front of open fires.
- Turn off your electric blanket at night.
- Do not use outdoor heating and cooking equipment inside your home. The use of this type of equipment indoors could lead to the build-up of carbon monoxide which could be fatal.
- Only working smoke alarms save lives - test your smoke alarm today and make sure its fully operational.
"On average, more than 30 per cent of preventable home fires occur in the cooler months, with 60 per cent of these occurring overnight between 6pm and 6am," Commissioner Baxter said.
''Before you leave your house or go to bed each night, check that all your appliances are switched off and ensure that open fires have been fully extinguished.
''If we all do our bit to minimise the risks in our home, we can all stay safer together."
- with Newcastle Herald