NEIGHBOURS tried in vain to break into a Clayton South house as it was engulfed by a blaze that killed a mother and two sons in the early hours of Friday.
Nearby resident Max Dunn said the scenes were chaotic in Main Road. "About 1am I heard a lot of noise and the smell of smoke was very strong," he said. "I had a look outside and the whole house was engulfed in a ball of flames."
The neighbours attempted to break the locked window shutters but the fire was out of control.
"I saw people and then police trying to bash the door down but they couldn't get in," Mr Dunn said. "The fire wasn't stopping for anything - you could've had a hundred fire trucks and they wouldn't have prevented it."
The firefighters took 40 minutes to contain the blaze.
The family, who had migrated from India, were believed to have been active members of the community.
The father of the children was overseas at the time of the blaze. Philip George had been in India when the fire killed his two sons, Mathew, 5, and Philip, 9, and their mother Anita, 37.
Mr George arrived in Melbourne early on Saturday and was met by detectives with the news.
The family, originally from Kerala in southern India, had migrated via Canada, where Mr George worked as an IT consultant.
The children attended school locally and the family regularly attended StAndrew's Catholic Church, both in Clayton.
Family friends and associates, who did not want to be named, said the family were very friendly.
"The kids attended St Peter's Primary School and often walked to school with my children," one woman said.
The family had a small support network in Australia, including two cousins who also live in Main Road. "Most of their immediate family are back home in south India," an associate confirmed.
A note was found by police, reportedly left on a car in the driveway.