updated 2/14/2010 6:43:48 PM ET 2010-02-14T23:43:48

A fire that apparently started after a man fell asleep while cooking swept through an apartment building, killing the man's young child and three others he was baby-sitting, authorities said.

The fire started at about 11 p.m. Saturday in the town house's kitchen, said Rod Slaughter, executive director of the Flint Housing Commission.

The 28-year-old father was able to escape through a first-floor window, but no one was able to reach the children in time, Slaughter said. The children were between the ages of 1 and 4 years old.

A next-door neighbor ran out and saw flames jumping from the window but was unable to do anything to save the children.

The housing commission was working to find new lodging for five families displaced by the fire, Slaughter said.

"No matter how bad the economy is, Flint and Genesee (County) will come together," Slaughter said, listing a range of community groups that were offering food, clothing and furniture to the families.

Pink and blue balloons, teddy bears and candles were placed outside the burned town house in an impromptu memorial for the victims. The neighborhood is pockmarked by vacant lots and boarded-up single-family homes in a battered industrial city hard-hit by the loss of tens of thousands of General Motors Corp. jobs over recent decades.

'Babies are inside'
Melinda Stewart, a neighbor whose three children played with the children who died, said she called 911 in a panic after the fire erupted.

"I was just screaming to 911, 'The babies are inside,'" Stewart told The Flint Journal.

It took firefighters hours to bring the blaze under control but it flared up again early Sunday, destroying Stewart's apartment and possessions and those of other neighbors.

The fire appeared to have spread through an attic and damaged all of the six units in the two-story apartment building, part of a sprawling, low-rise complex run by the housing commission, a public agency.

Slaughter said the city recently closed a nearby fire station because of budget cuts, but he believed the response time by firefighters had been adequate.

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