BRISBANE, Australia, Aug. 24 (UPI) — Tongan immigrants gathered Tuesday outside a house gutted by fire in northeastern Australia to mourn the 11 people who died there.
The blaze in the Brisbane suburb of Slacks Creek was believed to have been set off by four gas bottles exploding, The Courier-Mail of Brisbane reported. The fire spread quickly through the two-story house, with only three men escaping the flames.
The fire was the deadliest in Australia since 2000, when 15 people were killed in an arson fire at a backpackers’ hostel in Childers, Queensland.
One man, Jeremiah Lale, threw a mattress out of the window and jumped, screaming at his wife and five children to follow, witnesses said. The men who got out made desperate attempts to fight the flames and rescue those still inside.
Eight of the victims, believed to be mostly members of one extended family, were children and teenagers. Logan Mayor Pam Parker said some of those in the house were believed to be recent arrivals in Australia, staying with relatives until they got on their feet.
Religious leaders led an informal service early Tuesday afternoon, praying in English and Tongan, and leading hundreds of people outside the house in hymns.
One leader asked an unanswerable question: “What have we done to deserve this, Lord?”
“There’s nothing we can do, nothing we can say,” he added. “We just pray that you give us the strength to face tomorrow with all of this grief.”