By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - In one of New York City's deadliest fires in years, seven children from the same Orthodox Jewish family died early on Saturday when flames ripped through their Brooklyn home, officials said.
Their mother and a teenage sister survived after jumping from an upper floor.
The blaze, which erupted just before 12:30 a.m., appeared to have been started accidentally by a hot plate, which are used by many Orthodox families to warm food on the Sabbath, said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
It was the highest death toll in a fire in the city in seven years, Nigro said.
"This is an unbelievable tragedy," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters after seeing the devastation at the site of the blaze. "Every New Yorker is feeling this pain right now."
Responding to reports of flames inside the home, firefighters forced their way in and extinguished the fire, which had started in the kitchen, Nigro said. They then found the children, aged 5 to 15, in their bedrooms near the back of the home, he said, after the mother and another daughter jumped.
"I heard the mother yelling, 'My kids are in there! My kids are in there! Get them out! Get them out!'" neighbor Nate Weber told the New York Daily News. "The mother was outside. She was burned."
The 45-year-old mother and daughter who escaped the blaze were taken to a local hospital and were in critical condition, New York Fire Department spokesman Michael Parrella said.
More than 100 firefighters turned out to battle the blaze in Brooklyn's Midwood neighborhood and brought it under control within an hour, he added.
Midwood has a large population of Orthodox Jewish residents. Nigro said the hot plate was likely left switched on because of religious restrictions on lighting fires tied to the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Stephen Powell and Frances Kerry)