Image: Firefighters at the scene of the blaze in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Dan Gleiter  /  The Patriot-News via AP
A fireman drops items from an upstairs window after a fire damaged row homes and claimed the lives of five people on the 600 block of Forrest Street in Harrisburg, Pa., on Monday. staff and news service reports
updated 10/19/2010 10:59:39 AM ET 2010-10-19T14:59:39

Fire ripped through a row house in central Pennsylvania Monday night, killing five people, including four children aged between two and four, authorities said.

Flames already had engulfed two white brick houses in uptown Harrisburg by the time fire crews arrived minutes after the alarm, which sounded between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Fire Chief Robert Talloni said.

"There was a plume you could see for miles," he said.

Battalion Chief Daniel Hartman said the fire was reported shortly after 7:35 p.m., The Patriot-News reported.

He told newspaper that when crews arrived, "People were yelling, 'The kids were inside!'"

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A 48-year-old woman and four children ranging in age from two to four were killed, Chuck Ardo, a spokesman for the mayor's office, said.

Firefighters "were on scene within three (minutes) but unable to pull anybody out alive," Ardo said.

The names of the victims were not immediately available.

"When it involves children, it's very upsetting," Hartman told The Patriot-News. "Many of the firefighters are parents themselves."

Hartman also said the fire spread vertically as well as horizontally, and that fire crews found three victims on the second floor and two on the third floor of the house.

The Patriot-News reported that according to fire officials, the blaze left four other people homeless.

Fire officials said the home — 625 Forrest Street — had smoke detectors, but they were not functioning. They said at least four homes appeared to have been made uninhabitable.

Firefighters spent 45 minutes battling the blaze before bringing it under control, and at the height of the fire there were more than 50 firemen at the scene, The Patriot-News said.

State police and city and county investigators were at the scene, along with investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, to try to figure out the cause of the blaze.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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