Nursing Home Fire: Man Appears In Court

Jonathan Samuels, Australia correspondent

A male nurse has been charged with multiple counts of murder after five elderly residents were killed following a fire at a nursing home in Australia.

Roger Dean, 35, who worked at the Quakers Hill Nursing Home in Sydney, appeared via video link at Parramatta Court on Saturday morning - but said nothing.

He did not apply for bail and was remanded in custody to re-appear in court on Thursday.

Hundreds of firefighters, police and paramedics raced to the nursing home to tackle the blaze at dawn on Friday.

Three of the residents perished in the fire while two more later died in hospital.

About 30 others are still in hospital, some fighting for their lives with severe burns.

Police had been treating the incident as suspicious after saying they believed the fire broke out in two separate wings of the facility.

However, no arson charges have so far been made.

Detective Superintendent Michael Willing, who is leading the case, said police arrested  Dean when they received information after making an appeal.

He added the registered nurse had only been working at the home for a short time, but he would not comment on any motive.

Det Supt Willing said the fire was a tragedy for the local community.

Emergency services said they found a "chaotic and tragic" scene after an automatic fire alarm went off in the early hours of the morning.

Battling thick black smoke so dense they could not see their hands in front of their faces, firefighters evacuated 88 disorientated and frail patients, some blind or suffering dementia.

"This is a firefighter's worst nightmare," fire commissioner Greg Mullins said. "Turning up to a nursing home with elderly people who can't get themselves out of harm's way."

Many of the patients were later left in the open on beds and in wheelchairs until they could be transported to alternative accommodation.

Mr Dean was reportedly seen at the scene and was one of a number of people who spoke to reporters saying he was involved in the rescue.

Speaking at an East Asia summit in Bali, Prime Minister Julia Gillard called it a "very dark day".

"To imagine the frail, elderly people caught up in a fire like that, at risk of being engulfed by flames, is truly horrifying," she said.

"My condolences go to the families who have lost loved ones and to those whose loved ones are now in hospital and who are with them and awaiting news of their condition."

The fire has renewed calls for changes to building regulations in Australia to make water sprinklers compulsory in care facilities. The Quakers Hill home reportedly did not have any installed.

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