Investigators are trying to determine what caused a fast-moving fire that swept through a multifamily home early Saturday, killing four people, all of whom appeared to be children or teenagers, fire officials said.
Firefighters were on the scene quickly and tried to reach people sleeping inside, but the blaze spread through the two-story wood-framed building with such speed they were unable to get to people trapped on the upper floor.
"The firefighters were actually enveloped in flames for a brief time," Rochester fire Chief John Caufield told the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper. "We withdrew them. There was just no possible way for them to make a search or any further entry in there without really sacrificing their own lives."
Authorities have not yet released the identities and ages of the victims.
Caufield said five people survived the blaze. A woman and her toddler were rescued by firefighters on the first floor and three others in the house escaped by jumping from a second-floor window. They were taken to a hospital, he said.
The cause of the fire was under investigation, but the circumstances appeared unusual.
Firefighters were called to the neighborhood at 1 a.m. to extinguish a rubbish fire on the sidewalk. After dousing those flames, in what looked like a pile of burning clothes, firefighters did a routine canvass of the wood-frame apartment building on the property, Caufield said, and discovered another fire "that appeared to have occurred while we were here."
The fire crew radioed for help and rushed inside the dwelling, but things sped out of control.
"The whole first floor was heavily involved with fire," Caufield said. "The initial crew that was here made entry into the building and rescued a woman and an infant from the first-floor apartment. And in the short time it took to make that rescue, the fire flashed over and took over the whole first floor and extended quickly to the second floor."
Fire officials could see people moving on the second floor of the building, but within minutes flames were shooting from the windows.
Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards praised the bravery of the firefighters.
"The men and women of the Rochester Fire Department saved the life of a mother and her young toddler who were downstairs, then tried repeatedly to save the other four children upstairs," Richards said in a statement sent to the Democrat and Chronicle.
"They risked their lives in the attempt and had to be ordered back when the fire flashed and engulfed the house," Richards said.
Information from: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, http://www.democratandchronicle.com