A 37-YEAR-OLD Colac man died yesterday when he rushed into his burning house to save his three children, unaware they had already been rescued.
Rod Wintle had been away from home less than an hour when the fire took hold at his Elsinore Street house in the early hours of the morning.
In a tragic series of events, Mr Wintle was detained by police making routine traffic inquiries after he made an early morning trip to a shop.
After being released without charge, he returned home about 1.50am to find the house fully alight.
Neighbours shouted to him that his three children had been rescued, but he did not appear to hear them and rushed inside.
The children, aged eight, nine and 11, had earlier been brought to safety by neighbour Joel Craddock, 20, who was woken by a fire alarm.
''I heard the kids screaming and went in there. Two kids were running around and the other one was in the bedroom,'' Mr Craddock said yesterday.
''The kids were screaming, the dad was not home. The lounge room was on fire, there was a lot of smoke. I grabbed the little girl and pushed the boys out.''
Ken Farnes, who lives across the road, also ran to the house to ensure the family was safe.
When he saw the father arrive at the house, he rushed to tell him his children were safe, but Mr Wintle did not hear him.
Mr Farnes ran to the front door to try to reach the man, but was forced back by the intense heat. He was unable to get in the back door, which was locked.
Evan Robb, another neighbour, said Mr Wintle ''would not have lasted two seconds'' because of the intensity of the fire. ''The flames were going through the roof,'' Mr Robb said.
The house was gutted by the blaze.
Mr Craddock said the dead man had been a good father who loved his children. The whole street had been shaken by the tragedy. He said he did not feel like a hero. ''I did what anyone else would have done,'' he said.
Acting Sergeant Bill Caldow, of Colac police, said police were shaken that their actions in detaining the father had kept him away from his children and the house fire.
Acting Sergeant Caldow said police would have taken different action had they known the man's children were home alone while they questioned him at Colac police station after a routine interception.
He said he could not speak highly enough of Joel Craddock's actions in running into the burning house to rescue the children.
Acting Sergeant Caldow said the dead man had a fourth child who was not in the house at the time of the fire.