A shaken neighbour has spoken of the chaos that unfolded moments after a Melbourne townhouse went up in flames, killing a mother and her children trapped inside.
Alida Soteldo said she woke up to “loud sirens” and fire trucks spilling into Tulloch Grove, Glen Waverley, about 2am on Sunday. As plumes of black smoke filled the sky, she rushed outside.
“Then the ambulances came and then the police and that’s when I thought, oh God, something bad has happened,” she said.
“The police officers kept yelling at the neighbours to get back.”
The body of the mother, Kaoru Okano, was found with the bodies of her three daughters, aged 3, 5 and 7, in the bathroom of the home.
Ms Soteldo said she approached the residents who were evacuated from the neighbouring apartment buildings and tried to find out if anyone was injured or trapped inside at the time of the fire.
She even offered to host some of them in her house for the night while fire crews scrambled to contain the blaze.
“But no one knew what was happening; the police just kept telling us to get back,” Ms Soteldo said.
She said her heart sank later that morning when she found out who the victims were. She always thought of them as a “happy and cheerful family”.
“I couldn’t stop shaking. I knew who they were,” Ms Soteldo said.
“I’m an early childhood educator and no child passes by in front of me unnoticed. Those children always used to look forward to pass by my house to play with my dog as they went to the lake nearby.
“They used to ride their bikes all the time – every time I saw them I saw happy faces. The mum was always happy and you could tell she was very dedicated to the children.”
A man – believed to be the children’s father – escaped the blaze, but was rushed to hospital with serious injuries where he remains under police guard.
The arson squad combed the scene on Sunday, with investigators told the fire started just after 1.40am.
It took about 35 firefighters to bring the fire under control by 3.46am.
The exact cause of the fire is yet to be determined.