18 Nov 2011

Fourth person dies in blaze at Sydney nursing home

10:21 pm on 18 November 2011

At least four elderly people have died in a fire at a Sydney nursing home.

Fire crews are describing the blaze in Quakers Hill, in western Sydney, as the city's worst in 30 years.

Police have been called in to investigate but won't say whether they believe the fire was deliberately lit.

The fourth person was declared dead on Friday evening.

Authorities earlier said "fewer than ten" people had died. But Fire and Rescue New South Wales commissioner Greg Mullins said there could be further deaths.

32 people were taken to hospital with smoke inhalation and burns. Five of those had severe burns and 14 are in intensive care.

Firefighters were reportedly forced to crawl through thick smoke on their hands and knees to search beds and cupboards for residents, the ABC reports.

Mr Mullins says crews had to battle thick, black smoke when the fire broke out at about 5am local time.

"They couldn't see their hand in front of their face, they had to crawl on their hands and knees, the roof was on fire above them.

"So you can imagine what it would be like for elderly people in their nightclothes, some of them confused, suffering from dementia," he says.

Mr Mullins says it was an horrific scene.

"This is a firefighter's worst nightmare, turning up to a nursing home where there are elderly people who can't get themselves out of harm's way."

About 50 of the home's 100 residents have been taken to hospital.

Some have serious injuries and many are suffering from smoke inhalation.

Sue Webeck's 83-year-old mother Verna suffered burns and blisters in the fire and has been taken to Hawkesbury Hospital.

"My mum has nine lives. She was meant to die years and years ago and she keeps fighting," Ms Webeck said.

Investigators say it appears the fire began in two places.

It was the worst nursing home fire in Sydney since 16 people died in the city's south in a blaze at the Pacific Nursing Home at Sylvania Heights in 1981.