Home owner Caroline Dorritie, 44, and her 15-year-old daughter escaped the blaze inside the home in Huguenot, State Police Capt. Wayne Olson said.
Fire officials said Dorritie woke up this morning after hearing noise in the upstairs bedrooms. When she went to investigate, she saw a large amount of smoke. She fled the house and called for help. Firefighters battled the two-alarm blaze and then discovered the three dead children in the bedrooms.
Cassandra Dorritie, 12, and her friend Devon Fahey, 12, both 7th grade students, were found dead in one bedroom. In another room, Julia Dorritie, 10, also perished, fire officials said.
Courtney Dorritie,15, escaped the fire by jumping from a bedroom window at the rear portion of the residence, fire officials said.
The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.
"It's a mother's nightmare," said Judy Boertlein, a neighbor who held the surviving girl in her arms.
"She [the daughter] was laying there pounding the ground, screaming, hysterical," said Boertlein. "[I] just went up to the kid, said come here, come here and I just held her. She was screaming 'I want to go back in, I gotta get my sisters.' "
The fire was reported in a 911 call just before 8 a.m. and initial reports said the children were trapped in a bedroom.
Fire Chief Thomas Kalin blamed "smoke inhalation and heat" and said he found two of the victims in one upstairs bedroom, one in another. He said all three were out of bed and appeared to have been trying to escape.