Children screamed "we're burning" early Sunday as an apartment fire, likely caused by a candle used for light because there was no electricity, killed six children ages 3 to 14, authorities said.

The victims' mother and three siblings were injured.

The third-floor, three-bedroom apartment on the city's North Side also had no smoke detector, said visibly shaken Fire Commissioner Raymond Orozco.

"This is the largest multiple fire fatality we've had from a single fire in quite a few years. I mean it's children. It's difficult for everyone involved," Orozco said.

Commonwealth Edison spokesman John Dewey said the apartment hadn't had electricity since May, but he wouldn't say why it was turned off, citing confidentiality reasons.

Firefighters found most of the children huddled in the apartment's front room, not far from the spot where the fire probably started, said fire department spokesman Larry Langford.

"It appears that candles were used in the apartment and right now our preliminary cause is that the candles were the cause of origin," Orozco said.

The fire broke out just after midnight, Langford said.

"Then the mother came running out with one child in her arms, screaming to the neighbors that there were other children inside," said Cmdr. Will Knight. "They asked her how many and she said `eight."'

Derrell Dixon said two children appeared at a window and he and several other neighbors held up a blanket, trying unsuccessfully to get the youngsters to jump to safety.

"The kids were screaming and screaming 'Help! Help! We're burning, we're burning,"' said Dixon, 22, who said he saw firefighters rescue one of the children with a ladder.

Al Tillman, 32, was visiting a friend in the area when he heard the children yelling for help. He ran up to the third floor and crawled into the smoke-filled apartment, where he managed to grab a child's arm. He dragged the boy outside and handed him to paramedics.

"I'm shaken up because the other children didn't make it," Tillman said. "I only heard one child. I wish I could have saved the others."

The dead were identified by the Cook County medical examiner's office as Vanessa Ramirez, 14; Eric Ramirez, 12; Suzette Ramirez, 10; Idaly Ramirez, 6; Kevin Ramirez, 3; and Escarlet Ramos, 3.

A friend of one of the Ramirez children said their mother originally was from Mexico, but the family had been in the United States for at least 16 years.

"The community is in shock," Jasmin Lamb, 16, said tearily as she placed pink and white carnations on the sidewalk near the apartment. "They were a nice, warm family. My friend never got into any trouble."

The mother and one of the surviving children were in stable condition at Thorek Memorial Hospital, said R. Fordley, a nursing supervisor. Two other children were at other hospitals and their conditions were not immediately released.