updated 3/23/2005 12:12:45 AM ET 2005-03-23T05:12:45

Hours after firefighters responding to a report of smoke in a home’s basement found a minor problem with a furnace and returned to their station, flames erupted early Tuesday, killing four children and injuring their mother and a nanny.

Fire officials determined the blaze was caused by an overloaded electrical circuit — a condition not readily apparent during Monday night’s inspection.

“The lines are in the wall,” Deputy Chief Frank Florio said. “You look at the wires and you feel the wall. Usually after the fact is when you find it.”

Two girls, ages 7 and 14, escaped after their mother handed them to a neighbor who had propped a ladder against the burning house, authorities said. The girls were hospitalized, but no information was released on their conditions.

Fire Chief John Bauer said his department got a call Monday night reporting smoke in the basement of the three-story brick house.

“On our arrival, there was no smoke,” he said. “We spent over a half-hour checking the house. We couldn’t find anything wrong with the house. We checked all the electrical devices.”

Bauer said investigators did find a problem with a low-water cutoff valve in the home’s furnace but said it was not something that would have caused a fire. The family was advised to have it repaired.

At least three smoke detectors inside the house were functioning properly, he said.

About five hours later, the family’s nanny, who had been sleeping on a couch on the first floor, woke to heavy smoke and yelled to the mother, police Lt. Norman Levine said.

“Apparently they couldn’t make it down the stairs. They tried to get out the windows, but only a few of them made it,” Levine said.

The mother, Philyss Seidenfeld, 42, was trapped in a second-floor bathroom and was rescued by police and firefighters who wrenched out the frame of a window to free her, authorities said. She was listed in critical condition.

The nanny, Betty Mbaza, 37, was in serious condition.

The children killed in the fire were Ari Seidenfeld, 15; his brothers, Noah, 6, and Natan, 4; and a 5-year-old sister, Adira.

The children’s father was not at home, Levine said. Broadcast reports said the couple was divorced.

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