Four small children died and three were injured when fire tore through the house they were left in unattended for a birthday party sleepover yesterday.
Fire crews combing through the ashes of the two-story house found the bodies of three boys aged one, two and seven and a six-year-old girl, state police superintendent Kim Sorensen said.
Three girls, aged between 12 and 13, were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and taken to hospital. The blaze was thought to have started around 2am, when no adults were in the house in the coastal town of Wyong north of Sydney.
Wayne Sheppard, the stepfather of three of the dead, said he and the mother of the three boys who died had gone to a bowling club across the road from their home and then headed to a friend's place on Wednesday night. He was told his partner's five children, as well as two friends staying over, were left in the care of a male family friend, who apparently left before the blaze broke out.
"If he was there, the little babies would have been alive today," Shepherd said.
The older children had said the blaze was sparked by one of the younger children placing a blanket on a heater, Shephard said.
When the fire started, he said, the oldest child had panicked and jumped from the balcony to save herself.
"Instead of just chucking them [the youngest children] over the edge, the older girl, the poor little girl, has panicked and she has just jumped off, and the other ones have followed her, but the little ones wouldn't jump," he said.
Since the onset of the southern winter in the past month, at least six people have died in house fires in New South Wales state. Fire officials issued a public appeal yesterday for families to install smoke alarms and check heaters.