SYDNEY – Four elderly nursing home residents were killed and 31 remained hospitalized Friday after a suspicious pre-dawn fire in Sydney's western suburbs.
Three residents died in the blaze, with police advising Friday evening that a fourth person, one of 15 patients earlier admitted to intensive care units at the Royal North Shore and Concord hospitals, died while undergoing treatment.
Several of the most seriously hurt patients suffered severe burns, the police said. None of the dead have yet been formally identified
More than 90 firefighters rushed to the Principal Quakers Hill aged care facility in Quakers Hill as the intense blaze took hold just after 5:00am local time, while staff attempted to evacuate bedridden and wheelchair-bound residents.
"This is a firefighter's worst nightmare," New South Wales fire commissioner Greg Mullins said, adding that many of the elderly people could not get "out of harm's way."
He added, "Crews had to literally crawl on their hands and knees into every room in the complex, reach up under the beds, searching cupboards, anywhere where someone may have crawled away. [They] could not see their hands in front of their faces."
Following preliminary investigations, authorities confirmed there were two separate fires within the facility, which did not have a sprinkler system.
Police Superintendent Michael Willing said the matter was being treated as suspicious until they could prove otherwise, with a special taskforce formed to investigate.
"It will take a long time to establish what has happened here," he said, adding there were 88 residents in the building at the time of the fire.
Mullins said it would have been a horrific experience for the elderly residents, who were left huddled outside the burnt-out building before being taken to shelter.
"They are confused ... they are not sure what is going on," he said.
Desperate relatives flocked to the nearby Anglican church for information on their family members. Many did not know where their relatives were, with some fearing the worst.
Peter Andrews said his father-in-law was inside the nursing home at the time of the fire. "We don't know where he is because they don't know where they've transported people," he told The [Sydney] Daily Telegraph.