Twins were huddled together holding hands, aunt says
Graphic warning: Tankya Ford was barred from saving her twin girls from the ferocious fire that engulfed their home after they deadlocked the front door becoming trapped in a furnace that was to kill them.
The mother of four, alerted by the smell of smoke, found her three-year-old twins Aisha and Lailani playing with a burning pillow beside a log fire in the front room.
In a harrowing account from the girls' aunt, their mother disposed of the pillow outside when the girls playfully locked her out of their home in NSW's Snowy Mountain region of Batlow.
Within seconds, giant 12-feet flames ripped through the house.
By the time emergency crews arrived and broke through the front door it was too late.
The sisters were found unconscious, huddled together in the front room, holding hands.
It is believed they died from smoke inhalation.
Police strike force Edmonson has been established to investigate the blaze.
"There must have been something else burning in the front room, Tanyka was screaming at them to unlock the door but they didn't, the poor darlings would have been scared," their aunt Tammy Dubois, 39, told The Daily Telegraph.
"The girls couldn't speak, they had their own special language, they adored each other, they were found in the front room huddled holding each other's hand."
"Our hearts are broken, my brother Geoffrey is beside himself, he was asked to identify their bodies at hospital today but he couldn't bring himself to do it. He doesn't want to be here."
Ms Ford, 29, attempted to smash windows into the home but failed until a neighbour and emergency crews helped break down the front door of the flaming home on Mayday Rd on Monday.
Her five-year-old son Dominic was locked outside with her and crying for help.
"When the crews carried out the girls they were unconscious, mum was there and saw their heads flopping and thought they were still alive but they didn't make it," Ms Dubois said.
"The girls were six weeks premature and a little slow to develop but they spoke their own language they understood.
"They were wild, little Tomboys, adorable, they hated wearing clothes and loved playing in the dirt.
"Tanyka is covered in cuts and scratches from trying to break through windows to get to the girls. She loved those girls, her eyes are red raw from crying."
The girls' death has heaped more sorrow to townsfolk already on their knees from years of drought and devastating bushfires in January.
Carol Flannery, who lived next door when the girls were born, said they were "gorgeous" children and, for the Ford family "the girls were their life".
"To lose the children when they haven't had time to live … it's just devastating," Ms Flannery said.
"When your kids go, it's just, you can't replace them. You really can't.
"The girls had a tough enough time when they first came into the world, they had to be in Canberra Hospital.
"With the fires and everything else and now this and you just don't know what's going to be next.
Riverina superintendent Bob Noble said police now faced the grim task of interviewing Ms Ford and said all lines of inquiry were still open.
"It is not impossible that the door was deadlocked, we're looking at everything right now, the investigation is an early stage," Supt Noble said.
"All we know is she couldn't get back in the doors and we're investigating the cause of the fire."
"It's just devastatingly sad that two young lives have been snuffed out like that," he added.
"The mother and the young child that were here at the time will provide information that will be critical to investigators and that's our starting point.
"It's difficult for investigators to interview young children, particularly in an instance where that young child has lost two siblings."
One local resident said the "heartbroken" extended family of the victims was well-known around town.
He described watching in horror as the fire roared.
"We saw flames about 12 feet high and we were about 1km away," the man, who declined to be named, said.
"We're all a bit gut-busted by it … we just survived a bushfire and drought.
"They're a fairly big family, they have two or three houses all over this small village."
A GoFundMe page has been set up by the children's uncle, Levi Ford, to help their mother and surviving brother "with clothes, food and other things".
"My sister tragically lost her three-year-old twin daughters in a house fire, which claimed not only the lives of these two young children but also their home and belongings," Mr Ford said.
"Her son has lost all the belongings including toys and clothing …. Losing everything is hard enough without having to worry about financials.
"Anything no matter how small would be appreciated."
Originally published as Twins were huddled together holding hands, aunt says