A fire in an apartment above a Chinese restaurant in a southern Dutch village killed four sisters between the ages of 1 and 8, officials said Tuesday.

The fire engulfed the apartment in Arnemuiden where the children of the restaurant owner were asleep Monday evening, said Koos Schouwenaar, the mayor of the nearby city of Middelburg.

The father and several others tried to make their way up the stairs to rescue the children, but could not break through the flames, Dutch television reported. Witnesses said the fire spread so fast that the upper floor was ablaze before anyone below noticed.

The patrons of the restaurant were safely evacuated, the mayor said.

The girls were 1, 3, 7 and 8 years old.

Police said the blaze appeared to have been caused by an overheated cable of a ceiling light.

On Tuesday, Christmas worshippers remembered the children during church services, and townspeople lit candles and lay floral wreaths outside the burned shell of the Oriental Paradise restaurant.