Neighbours were woken today by the piercing screams of a mother as her three young girls died in a house blaze.
The children, aged 17 months, three years and six years, were found dead by fire crews at their terrace house.
Firefighters braved heavy smoke, flames and temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees in a bid to rescue the girls, but were unable to save them.
Neighbours in Fourth Avenue, Goole, East Yorkshire, spoke of their horror as the flames ripped through the property in the early hours of this morning.
Joan Todkill, 58, who lives opposite the house described how she was woken up by the mother's screams.
She said: "I heard her screaming 'Help me, my babies are in there'.
"I went out to see what was going on but there was nothing I could do, absolutely nothing. There was smoke and flames everywhere. She was standing in the street asking for someone to get her babies. She was crying.
"It was absolutely dreadful. I am still in a state of shock now."
Mr Todkill's daughter Haley said she used to babysit for the three girls.
She said: "I used to babysit every couple of weeks on a Saturday when she used to go into Goole for a drink. She was lovely. Her three kids were lovely."
Mrs Todkill said the three girls and the mother had lived in the house for about a year. She added: "I remember seeing the kids playing in the street and they were lovely, really friendly. They were a normal happy family. I just can't believe what's happened."
Mrs Todkill said she tried to console the mother but left when the emergency services arrived. She said she spent the rest of this morning giving shelter to residents who had been evacuated from their homes following a gas leak.
The girls' mother was taken to hospital in Goole suffering the effects of smoke inhalation, Humberside Fire and Rescue Service said.
Speaking at the scene, Station Officer Nick Grainger said he had never known a fire as severe and with such loss of life in 18 years in the service.
He praised the "heroic" actions of four of his officers who tried to rescue the girls.
"Two accessed the building on the ground floor while two went to the back and gained access on the first floor," he said.
"All four managed to get to the bedroom but it was obvious from the extent of the girls' injuries they were dead.
"It was an incredibly severe fire. I have been in the service for 18 years and have not known a fire as severe as this with such a loss of life.
"Their actions were truly heroic. I can't put into words what they have done."
Mr Grainger said two of his officers received burn injuries as the intense blaze began to melt their equipment.
He added: "Not only have they got physical injuries, but they would have been affected emotionally. A lot of my men are fathers and have children of their own.
"It will have been emotional for them but counselling will be available if needed."
Mr Grainger said the priority now was to establish a cause of the blaze, into which an investigation has already begun.
He said it was not possible to establish if a fire alarm was working in the property as the fire had destroyed every fitting and fixture.
Firefighters had been called to the house at 1.56am, where they found the girls' mother outside.
She told them that her children were trapped inside and it was then that the two fire crews entered the property and tried to save them.
The girls bodies had now been removed from the house, the fire service said.
Divisional Officer Paul Dent said at the height of the fire, five pumping appliances and one turnstile ladder were in attendance.
The whole house and the roof, which was shared with several other premises, were involved in the fire, he added.
Due to the smoke and a gas leak, fire crews evacuated 19 neighbouring properties – many of which remain evacuated this morning.
A Humberside Police spokesman said there was no indication at the moment as to what the cause of the fire was.
The terraced house was extensively damaged in the blaze, with the front of the property blackened and charred and the rear roof totally destroyed.
The street remained sealed off this morning with only police officers and gas engineers allowed access to the property.
Police said some residents who had been evacuated from the area in the morning had been allowed back to briefly check their properties for any damage.
Another neighbour, Gary Jones, 36, said he was woken up at about 1.45am by the sound of breaking glass.
He said: "I heard a window smash. Initially I thought it was somebody breaking in. I looked out of my window across the road and saw flames and smoke billowing out of the property. I phoned the Fire Brigade and they arrived within three or four minutes.
"I went outside and could see the mother was crying and sobbing for her kids. She was saying they were still in there. There was nothing I could do, the flames were so intense. You couldn't get near the front door, I just had to stand in the front of the street. It was terrible. The Fire Brigade arrived and managed to put it out straight away. I feel so shocked. I was just helpless."
Mr Jones said the distraught mother was led away from the scene wrapped in a duvet. He added: "She was very upset. She just kept talking about her three young girls."Reuse content