updated 5/9/2011 4:40:46 PM ET 2011-05-09T20:40:46

Fire tore through one-half of a central New York duplex Monday morning, killing a mother and her three young children, authorities said.

The blaze broke out around 9:30 a.m. in a 2½-story home on the city's west side, fire officials said. When firefighters arrived minutes later, heavy smoke and flames were coming from the first and second floors.

Fire Chief Russell Brooks said the victims are a mother and her three children, ages 1, 2 and 4. Their names and the age of the mother weren't released, pending complete family notifications.

Firefighters were thwarted in their first attempt to search the building when a staircase collapsed. They used hoses to push the flames to the rear of the building and conducted a second search, Brooks said.

The fire was doused about 20 minutes after it was reported, and it was declared completely out by 11:30 a.m.

"It's a tragic day here in West Utica," Brooks said.

The cause of the fire was not known. When the house was inspected a year ago, officials said, it had working smoke detectors, but it was not immediately known if the detectors were working Monday.

John Rinner, who said he used to live nearby, told the Observer-Dispatch of Utica that the family moved into the neighborhood about two months ago.

Greg Maddox, 18, was visiting a relative on the same block when firefighters were searching for the victims. He said he often saw the children playing outside.

"The saddest thing was when they brought out the baby," Maddox told the newspaper.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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