Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins described the scene as “chaotic” and “tragic” as more than 100 fire crews, police and ambulance officers arrived at the Quakers Hill Nursing Home on Hambledon Road, Quakers Hill just after 5am.
“This is a firefighter’s worst nightmare,” Commissioner Mullins said. “Turning up to a nursing home with elderly people who can’t get themselves out of harm’s way.”
Police say “several” elderly people died, but would not confirm a death toll.
NSW Ambulance media manager John Wilson said 23 people were taken to the Nepean, Blacktown, Mt Druitt and Westmead hospitals with smoke inhalation after the fire, which broke out in two rooms.
There were no burns patients, he added.
Up to 100 residents were evacuated, Fire and Rescue NSW spokesman Superintendent Rick Parkes said.
Police said officers from the the homicide and arson squads were heading to the site and would be joined by the Coroner.
Fire investigators and police forensics teams were already at the nursing home, Fire and Rescue NSW said.
The cause of the fire was not yet known, Superintendent Parkes said.
Commissioner Mullins told reporters earlier the fire had been put out but the smoke in the building was very heavy.
“Crews had to literally crawl on their hands and knees into every room in the complex, reach up under the beds, searching cupboards, anywhere where someone may have crawled away,” he said.
“So it has taken quite some time because of the thick black smoke to confirm that we had all of the residents cleared.”
A firefighter at the home added,”You can imagine what it would be like for elderly people in their night clothes, some of them suffering from dementia.”
Commissioner Mullins said police and paramedics arrived “en masse”.
“It was a real team effort,” he said. “A bit like a military operation … crews from throughout Sydney have responded.”
The mayor of Blacktown City, Councillor Alan Pendleton, praised the quick response by firefighters, saying that “probably saved a lot of people”.
“The new fire station is just a couple of hundred metres up the road.”
Cr Pendleton, who travels past the home everyday on his way to work, said the deaths were “devastating”.
“I think it’s tragic, particularly for all the patients and the people living at the home. Most of them are incapacitated or have dementia and unable to evacuate themselves from the building.”
Some elderly residents were lying in beds on the street, waiting to be taken to hospitals or other nursing homes, a witness said.
The fire is being compared to the Pacific Nursing Home fire in Sylvania Heights on April 29, 1981, in which 16 people died.
The Quakers Hill nursing home is owned by the Domain Principal Group.