who died early Friday in an apartment building fire in Newark's Vailsburg section, officials said.
A 3-year-old girl, 4-year-old boy, believed to be siblings, died in a rear apartment on the third floor, while a 6-year-old girl, a teenager and a man died in the front apartment on the same floor of the Brookdale Avenue building, fire officials said.
Adding an even more somber note to the tragic deaths, the mother of the two children who died in the front apartment was giving birth at a nearby hospital on the day of the fire, officials told NJ.com.
The names of the victims had not been released as of Saturday morning.
The blaze broke out at 1:41 a.m. inside a vacant three-story complex at 31 Brookdale Ave. and quickly engulfed adjacent residences. The address where the fire originated was not in any open code violations and received a certificate of occupancy in 2006, according to Newark Business Adminstrator Julien Neals.
The empty home was also properly secured and boarded up following endless complaints of squatters by the Brookdale Block Association, according to West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice.
As many as 55 firefighters battled the early-morning blaze, which remains under investigation by arson detectives.
Edward Bullock, who lives next door to the now-gutted building, said he smelled smoke around 1:30 a.m. and helped evacuate the building with his three children and two grandchildren. Flames could be seen shooting out of the third-story windows as people ran screaming from the burning home, Bullock said.
"I've never seen nothing like that in my life," said Bullock's cousin, Donald Huffin."It started up top and worked its way down. In several minutes, the entire place was engulfed in flames."
Bullock said he watched as one man attempted to run back into the burning building to rescue his children.
"By the time he went up, that third floor was just gone," said Bullock. "He was just astonished. That's a rough feeling."
One family, including a mother, father and two young children, was taken to the hospital with injuries, authorities said. The family is in stable condition at this time, according to Fire Chief John Centanni, who said detectives have been to the hospital to do interviews.
Sixteen people were displaced and five homes sustained damage, including the side of Bullock's home, which he's owned for 20 years. Heat from the inferno melted the plastic siding of his home.
An excavator was on scene around 4 p.m. Friday to begin demolition of the building, while officials from the Red Cross and Salvation Army provided aid to families.
Rice, the councilman, said the fire raises a larger issue among councilmembers about the staggering amount of vacant properties in the city.
"The absentee landlords have to be held to a higher standard, have to be held to a higher degree of responsibility, and we'll be looking at some legislative action to make sure that actually happens," he said.
Last year, officials But that ordinance may need to be beefed up in wake of the fatal blaze, said Rice.
"My gumption tells me that we may have to do something that says if you're an absentee landlord sitting on property that is not rehabilitative or brought back on the tax roll," he said, "that we should investigate whether we can take the property ... for the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood. I think we'd be on good ground for that legally."
Neals quashed earlier reports of low water pressure in battling the blaze, saying the water and sewer department confirmed there was adequate pressure.
"Because of the volume of water that was required, however, there was water that was diverted from other water sources in the area so there would be adequate pressure to battle the fire continuously," he said.
Newark firefighters as well as officials from the Essex County Prosecutor's Office and PSE&G, were on scene Friday preparing for the second part of the investigation of the charred residences.
Rice was also on hand, donning a plastic poncho over a gold polo, to help neighbors carry suit cases stuffed with belongings out of the still-smoldering building. He said two of the women burned out of their homes are cheerleading coaches in the West Ward.
Rice praised city hall officials, first repsonders, and local grassroots organizations - including Stop Shootin', an anti-violence group - for their efforts in battling the blaze and assisting survivors.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker called the fire a "tragic loss" for the entire city and offered his condolences to the affected families.
"As we continue to work on and investigate this incident, we are also doing everything we can to support the families who have been so severely impacted," he said in a statement.
The Newark Fire Department Charity Fund is collecting cash and non-monetary donations for victims of the fire. Click here for more information.