RIMANEWS-Three children and a woman have died and three others are in hospital following a house fire in Essex.
Firefighters called to the property in Barn Mead, Harlow, at about 01:45 BST found flames coming out of the front and back doors.
Two boys aged 13 and six, a girl aged 11 and the woman, believed to be the children's mother, were declared dead at the scene.
A girl, three, and a boy, nine, have serious burns. A man has minor burns.
The casualties were taken to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow.
An investigation is under way to establish how the fire started at the two-storey terraced house, which is 40yds (37m) from a primary school.
A BBC reporter at the scene said the window frames and brickwork of the property were badly fire-damaged.
Local councillor Rod Truan said: "No-one can prepare you for this.
"This will touch everybody in Harlow."
An eyewitness, who did not want to be named, said she had been woken in the early hours by her dog and thought her house was being burgled.
She said she looked out of the window and saw a man screaming in the street.
"I saw him screaming and everybody seemed to be running around.
"It's just horrific," the woman said.
Assistant divisional officer Steve Foster, from Essex Fire and Rescue, said: "Crews arriving at the scene did everything they could.
"They were faced with a rapidly developed fire and went straight into the burning building wearing breathing apparatus to bring people out as quickly as possible.
"Once casualties were out, they worked alongside ambulance teams to do all they could.
"Fire investigation teams are now working with police to establish how this tragedy happened and our thoughts are with those the family left behind."
Gary Sanderson, spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service, said: "Our thoughts are with the family and friends of all involved in this tragic incident this morning.
"Following a rapid scene assessment by the first clinician on scene, our trust declared a major incident due to the severity of the incident.
"Ambulance crews worked extremely hard alongside the fire service to treat a total of seven casualties - two adults and five children - who were all conveyed to Princess Alexandra Hospital.
"Sadly, after everyone's best efforts, three children and an adult lost their lives. Two other children remain in a critical condition in hospital."
A spokeswoman for the fire service said the father was not at home when the fire started and the four deaths occurred at the scene.
She said: "We understand that firefighters brought them out of the house and were doing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) outside, and that they were confirmed dead at the scene.
"The incident is now in the hands of Essex Police."
A police statement said: "The cause of the fire is under investigation and detectives are looking at the circumstances leading up to the fire, and ask that anyone who was in the area of Barn Mead in the early hours of Monday and has any information contacts police at Harlow police station on 101."[Ach/BBC]