THREE siblings have died in a "heartbreaking" house fire in Singleton overnight.
The Atkins family home went up in flames leaving the local community shocked and devastated.
Three children, since confirmed as 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. Support vehicles were immediately called in to help.
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. Kara suffered burns to her back and forehead in the incident.
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."
FROM THE SCENE
Shandelle Reid, 27, a nearby resident, was awoken by a torch at one one of her windows during the night.
She said by that stage, the street was lined with emergency service workers and neighbours.
"I was woken up because I heard yelling and screaming," she said.
"There was the fire brigade, the police - who were actually directing people away from the live wire that was hanging from the power line.
"There was heaps of people, the whole area was crowded."
Ms Reid said the flames were "skyrocketing out of the roof" and there was a big "bang, a big explosion" when part of the house collapsed.
She said neighbours had attempted to help during the fire.
"This lady, she went into help. She said she pulled one of the kids through the back window," she said.
"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."
Ms Reid described the neighbours who assisted as "pretty brave, to run into a burning house".
Immediate neighbour Braden Rodgers, along with three other people, bravely rendered assistance as the fire took hold.
Mr Rodgers said his partner and a friend got Ms Atkins and one of the children out through a window, before he "kicked the door in" to go inside to try and reach other members of the family.
"I helped them out the window and then went through the back door, but couldn't go any further than the kitchen.
"I just couldn't see, even on my hands and knees you couldn't see.
"We just got pushed back out the door by a heatwave, and then we just got the hoses onto it."
Mr Rodgers said the intensity of the fire could be felt from five to 10 metres away.
"I could feel the heat it was that hot from my house," he said.
"When I was standing on the lawn, it felt like i standing right next to it in the house. It was really hot."
Mr Rodgers played down his role and said he did not want any praise for his bravery.
"I just did what anyone else what do and helped out," he said.
"I don't want any praise, I just did it to help the family."
Emergency services are expected to remain on scene for some time.
Police have commenced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the fire.
"I would like to emphasise the heroic nature of the four residents in the nearby vicinity that tried to assist the people inside the house and importantly got the mother and the eight-year-old daughter out," Hunter Valley Police District Commander Superintendent Chad Gillies said at a press conference on Wednesday.
"We're now working closely to manage the welfare of all our emergency service workers that were involved in today's tragic incident."
Superintendent Joshua Turner from Fire and Rescue NSW said crews arrived on scene to find neighbours valiantly attempting to douse the flames. Crews immediately got to work and attempted to rescue the remaining family members trapped inside the home.
"They made entry through the front door but unfortunately the heat and intensity of the fire forced them back though the front door and they had to go into defensive mode and fight the fire from the outside," he said.
"Back-up crews made access to the side of the house and were able to make entry through side windows to two bedrooms that weren't yet completely involved with fire and assist with removing two persons from those two bedrooms.
"Two people had previously been removed and were being assisted by ambulance."
The two people removed from the side bedrooms were five-year-old twin girls who sadly did not survive. Superintendent Turner said when crews entered the two bedrooms they were heavily filled with smoke and it was a matter of seconds between extracting the young girls from the house and the rooms becoming engulfed in flames.
"It was an extremely difficult operation for all of those fire fighters," he said.
Risk of structure collapse and the intensity of the flames meant further internal rescue attempts could not be made.
When the site is deemed safe to do so, police and fire investigators will examine the home to identify where and how the fire started.
At this stage, Superintendent Turner could only confirm that the fire started at the front of the home and travelled through to the rear of the property. The home had working smoke detectors and neighbours and first-responders both reported hearing the alarms at the scene.
"We have seen, particularly in this area, in the last few weeks a large number of fires have been caused through heating appliances and so forth, and coming into winter that is a major contributing factor to fires," he said.
"Knowing there was a fireplace in the vicinity, it will be a major point of investigation."
Police will prepare a report for the coroner outlining the full circumstances surrounding the incident.
While the Singleton community remains in shock, messages of support for first responders are already pouring in from Fire and Rescue units across the Hunter Region.
"As firefighters, its a reality that can turn into a nightmare," a statement from Fire and Rescue NSW Station 344 Kearsley said.
"Responding to a fire and having persons reported as missing or still inside. We stand strong beside our mates at 444 and all responding crews knowing that this incident is having a huge impact on them all."
The Abermain crew said "feelings are high for the guys at 444, tough few weeks".
Singleton Mayor Sue Moore also released a statement:
"Our thoughts and prayers are also with the 31-year-old woman and eight-year-old girl who are being treated in hospital as a result of the house fire this morning.
"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.
"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.
"Again, I wish to highlight the bravery of the neighbours and emergency service workers who attended the scene, and support the efforts of the NSW Police, NSW Fire & Rescue and NSW Ambulance to provide the ongoing assistance they will no doubt need in the aftermath of this event.
"To everyone who has been touched by this tragedy, I offer our community's deepest sympathies.
"I also sincerely thank Member for Upper Hunter Michael Johnsen MP and my colleagues from other councils who have reached out to offer their thoughts and prayers at this difficult time."
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