Seniors’ lonely Christmas after horror house fire
A group of seniors have spent Christmas alone and in limbo after their southwest Sydney units were destroyed by a terrifying fire that appears to have been started by a cigarette butt.
Residents and neighbours frantically knocked on doors and screamed "fire!" at noon on Christmas Eve as smoke billowed from the top floor of the Department of Housing building on Kawana St, Bass Hill.
Firefighters from 20 trucks extinguished the blaze about 3.50pm. There were no reported injuries, but thousands of dollars in jewellery, passports and photos were gone in an instant.
Police said the fire, which affected about 30 residents, was likely started by a cigarette butt and was not thought to be suspicious, but investigations were still ongoing.
Residents have been housed in small emergency self-contained units as they wait to find out what they lost.
Top-floor resident Helena Chang, 77, smelt smoke and heard screaming outside her unit about noon on Thursday.
Ms Chang, who lives alone and is recovering from knee surgery, hobbled outside to see black smoke engulfing her neighbour's unit.
"I only had my dressing gown and phone in my pocket," she said.
"The door was red hot. I heard a loud noise and I saw part of the roof had collapsed. Everyone was emotional and screaming … banging on doors to save people."
She managed to escape downstairs and waited on the grass in front of the units with other residents as firefighters worked to save their belongings.
Ms Chang said she lost a brand new $400 watch, her passport and the home she has lived in for 20 years.
Mother-of-three Amal Hassan, 64, was shopping with her neighbour Marcelle Hanna when she received a call from police.
"They said the roof is burning and my flat is destroyed," Ms Hassan said.
"I am already grieving at the moment. I lost my two twin grandchildren that were born prematurely so I'm feeling severely depressed.
"I had a nice tree with an angel, I was planning on staying with that at home on Christmas."
Ms Hassan and other residents have blamed a group of "druggies" who live in the block of flats that "take drugs and start fires".
Ms Hassan is leaning on her friend and neighbour Ms Hanna, because her children are overseas.
"My tears keep flowing," Ms Hanna said.
" (Ms Hassan) has lost everything. Her passport. Her clothes. Everything. It is a sad day, we don't know what to do with ourselves."
Mai, who did not want her last name used, said she had not stopped crying.
She has been given clothes, toiletries and food in her Carramar emergency accommodation, which includes a bed, kitchen and bathroom. She felt uncomfortable because she was not given underwear.
"It's fine but it's not home. I'm wearing someone else's clothes," she said.
As a Buddhist, Mai does not celebrate Christmas, but that did not stop her from feeling completely alone and "empty" on Saturday.
"I have been invited to my friend's party today but I am not going to go. I'm in shock from it all. It was very scary. I saw the fire coming through the roof," Mai said.
Mai said she now understood what the victims of the Black Summer bushfires went through.
"I now understand more what they were going through. That happened to me yesterday so I know how they feel. I now have to move again. I feel empty," she said.
Nancy Talib said she was relieved to be with her 70-year-old mother Salwa El Arnous, who is partially deaf, when the fire started.
"Someone knocked on our door and screamed, 'Fire, fire fire! Ten minutes later the top floor was pretty much gone," she said.
"We went outside and I left my bag in there with my wallet. Mum has gold inside. Lots of valuable stuff in her bedroom.
"We're in limbo at the moment. We don't know anything. We're not sure what she's lost and what she hasn't lost."
Originally published as Seniors' lonely Christmas after horror house fire