'Unbelievable tragedy': Hot-plate fire kills 7 children in Brooklyn

Seven children in what neighbors described as an Orthodox Jewish family were killed early Saturday in a Brooklyn house fire that was apparently sparked by a hot plate meant to keep food warm over the Sabbath, New York's fire commissioner said.

The four boys and three girls -- siblings ranging in age from 5 to 16 -- were in upstairs bedrooms when the hot plate apparently malfunctioned, starting a fire that swept up from the first floor shortly after midnight in Brooklyn's south-central Midwood section, New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

The fire's only survivors: The victims' 45-year-old mother and her 14-year-old daughter. Both jumped from second-floor widows to escape. They were in critical condition Saturday at a hospital, being treated for burns and smoke inhalation,

\"This is an unbelievable tragedy,\" New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said after he toured the burned-out home with fire officials Saturday afternoon. \"It's so painful, it's so difficult . ...

\"Every New Yorker is feeling this pain right now.\"

The children's father was away, apparently for a conference. After initially having trouble contacting him, police found him and told him of the tragedy, Nigro said early Saturday afternoon.

The family apparently had been trying to keep food warm with a \"hot plate\" device in the kitchen as part of their observance of the Sabbath, Nigro said.

Neighbors told CNN that the family are Orthodox Jews. The Sabbath begins at sunset on Fridays; Orthodox Jews often observe the Sabbath without working or cooking, and can make arrangements to keep food warm before the Sabbath begins.

Police said seven children who died were sisters Eliane Sassoon, 16, Rivkah Sassoon, 11, and Sara Sassoon, 6, and their brothers David Sassoon, 12, Yeshua Sassoon, 10, Moshe Sassoon, 8, and Yaakob Sassoon, 5.

The hot plate apparently malfunctioned as the family slept upstairs in four bedrooms, Nigro said. He did not say how the malfunction happened.

The fire raced from the kitchen up a staircase and toward the bedrooms. Someone called 911 shortly after 12:20 a.m., and the firefighters arrived less than four minutes later, but the blaze was well advanced, Nigro said.

Firefighters broke down the front door and knocked the flames down to the point where they could go upstairs, \"but it was too late,\" Nigro said.

\"It's difficult to find one child in a room during a search. To find a house full of children that can't be revived, I'm sure this will take its toll on our members for quite some time,\" Nigro said.

One girl was pronounced dead at the scene; the other six were sent to hospitals but died, police said.

Pre-dawn video from CNN affiliate WABC showed firefighters throwing debris outside from second-floor windows, where smoke still drifted out. More than 100 firefighters went to the house in the snowy neighborhood, located about three blocks south of Brooklyn College, CNN affiliate NY1 reported.

Smoke detector in basement, but none found above

Firefighters found no evidence of smoke detectors in the first and second floors, according to Nigro. There was a working smoke detector in the basement, though it wasn't clear if it had activated.

Even if it did sound an alarm, the basement device wasn't sufficient because rising smoke would have incapacitated the family before the basement was affected, and because it would have been too far away to hear, Nigro said.

\"To hear a smoke detector two floors away is asking a lot,\" Nigro said.

Nigro said that from what he could tell, it would have been \"impossible\" for the mother to have left her room to collect her children in other rooms.

\"The mother would have had to go into the fire\" to collect the children, and instead did what she could to jump out of a window to get help, Nigro said.

Firefighters arrived to find the mom and the 14-year-old already out of the house. Both suffered burns and smoke inhalation, the fire commissioner said.

CNN's Linh Tran, Joe Sutton, Faith Karimi and Anne Woolsey contributed to this report.

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