Hero neighbours have revealed how they saved a mother and daughter from a deadly house fire – and the devastating moment they realised they couldn’t pull the remaining three children from the inferno.
Couple Braden Rodgers, 24, and Deanna Stolzenburg rushed to the blaze at Singleton in the NSW Hunter Valley at 3.30am on Wednesday as the home became engulfed in flames.
They were among the neighbours who managed to pull mother Kara Atkins, 31, and her daughter Bayley, 8, from the back of the house, but they were beaten back by the searing heat when they tried return.
‘We kicked the door in after getting the mother out. We went as far as the kitchen then a hot blaze pushed us back out,’ Mr Rodgers told 7News.
‘We were on our hands and knees and couldn’t see anything… I couldn’t go any further than the laundry, it was just too hot and I couldn’t see anything.’
Mr Rodgers was trying to reach twin sisters Matylda and Scarlett, aged five, and their 11-year-old brother Blake, who were all tragically killed.
The twins died in hospital after being pulled out by firefighters, while Blake perished in the house.
Couple Braden Rodgers (pictured centre), 24, and Deanna Stolzenburg (pictured left) rushed to the horrific house fire in the New South Wales Hunter Valley at 3.30am on Wednesday
Twin sisters Matylda and Scarlett (pictured left), aged five, and their 11-year-old brother Blake (pictured right) died in the fire at around 3.30am on Wednesday. Only their mother Kara Atkins, 31, and her daughter Bayley (pictured centre), 8, survived the blaze
Ms Stolzenburg felt ‘helpless’ she could not save the remaining three children.
She and another neighbour Matisse Maskey pulled Kara and Bayley out from the back window.
‘I woke up to the house exploding and glass exploding and the house engulfed in flames and then me and Matisse ran out the back to try and save them all,’ she told The Daily Telegraph.
‘(Kara) was at the back window screaming for help and we went out the back and pulled them out. The window was open and Kara was passing her daughter out, she said ”take her take her, I’ve got to get the rest”.’
Firefighters and police arrived shortly after the mother and daughter were pulled out.
‘We kicked the door in after getting the mother out. We went as far as the kitchen then a hot blaze pushed us back out,’ Mr Rodgers (pictured) said
The family said Bayley is still in shock, and isn’t aware her siblings are dead.
Ms Atkins is at John Hunter Hospital with burns to her body, while Bayley is being treated for smoke inhalation.
Mr Bates’ wife Debbie Garland said the grandmother of the children is distraught.
‘All we know is Bayley is in hospital, she is oblivious to what has happened, she doesn’t know. She is in hospital, she must be in shock,’ Ms Garland said.
Police were seen leaving house with a heater on Wednesday night before taking it away in the back of a trailer.
Investigators suspect the blaze may have started in the wood combustion heater.
Mother Kara Atkins, 31, and her eight-year-old daughter Bayley were dragged to safety by heroic neighbours
Twins Matylda and Scarlett, six, were taken to hospital, where they were pronounced dead, while 11-year-old Blake (left) was found dead inside the home
According to NSW Fire and Rescue, the heater will play a role in helping investigators piece together what caused the deadly inferno – which is believed to have started in the front of the house and moved to the back.
A string of fires in the Hunter Valley region were caused by fireplaces and heaters recently, as residents try to keep warm with plummeting temperatures.
Tributes for the three children are being placed outside the burnt out home – among them was a photo of Blake in his local team’s rugby league jersey, with letters from the community.
A GoFundMe has been launched by family friend Caitlyn Stemmer to help the family, who in addition to losing three children, have lost all of their belongings and their home.
She told Daily Mail Australia she was not surprised to see how quickly donations had flooded in, noting it was ‘pretty standard for Singleton’ to help out their own.
‘I don’t have much to say, there’s not really words for a situation like this,’ she said.
‘Money should be the least of their worries, I’m glad the community has come together to support the family.’
The inferno started at the front of the home on Brittliffe Close in Singleton about 3.30am on Wednesday, and spread quickly through the rest of the home
The home, on Brittliffe Close in Singleton, was badly damaged in the fire, which engulfed the home
Neighbours were seen carrying flowers to the home as word of the tragedy began to spread
Neighbour Shandelle Reid, 27, told the Newcastle Herald she saw flames ‘skyrocketing out of the roof’ and heard an explosion as part of the Atkins family home collapsed.
Ms Reid also revealed the harrowing experience of another neighbour who had gone in to help the family.
‘This lady, she went into help,’ she said.
‘She said she pulled one of the kids through the back window, but the frame collapsed in and she said she couldn’t get in there to get the other kids.
‘But she said she kept hearing them screaming.’
The home has become a crime scene, as forensic police investigate the cause of the fire
Police said a fireplace at the front of the home will be looked into as a potential cause for the devastating fire
Firefighters rushed to the blaze on Brittliffe Close in Singleton at about 3.30am on Wednesday
Horrifying footage from the scene shows the decimated house with most of the top floor collapsed.
A neighbour said she had been awoken to screams next door, and came out to see the home was on fire.
‘There were so many children inside,’ she told Nine News. ‘It is just a shocking thing to happen to anybody.’
Neighbour Brock Forbes told the ABC he and his family had grabbed the hose and rushed to help while they waited for firefighters.
‘Me and me family just woke up from a big bang and [we heard] just smashing and screaming so we ran out and grabbed the hose,’ he said.
‘I was trying to put the fire out and trying to save them and firefighters came and got it under control.
A full investigation has been launched to establish the cause of the fire, which may have been started by a fireplace
Neighbours were held back as emergency services worked to secure the home and establish the cause of the fire (pictured)
Police will prepare a report for the Coroner outlining the full circumstances surrounding the incident.
Singleton Mayor Sue Moore released a statement praising the heroic neighbours and first responders and addressing the heartbreak of the small community.
‘The situation confronting those who responded to the fire on Brittliffe Close in the early hours of this morning is hard for anyone to imagine, and I pay tribute to the heroism of the neighbours who were on the scene in the first instance and the emergency services who responded,’ she said.
‘We are proud of our tight-knit community in Singleton, and a tragedy like this, particularly with children involved, will touch everyone in some way. We will all band together to offer ongoing support to neighbours, schools and everyone in the wider community who have been affected.
‘To everyone who has been touched by this tragedy, I offer our community’s deepest sympathies.’
Neighbours awoke hearing screams in the middle of the night coming from the house where four children lived with their parents