A fire that appeared to start on the back porch of a row house spread quickly Tuesday, killing a woman, three of her children and a neighbor, authorities said.

A neighbor who survived said the mother went back inside to try to save her kids while flames were shooting out of the building.

"We were saying, 'God, no, God, no,' and I knew she wasn't coming back out," Ruth Austen said, holding and comforting a crying cat that she said belonged to the victims.

The father of the children survived, as did two of his other children.

Maysville Fire Chief Kevin Doyle said the father was in and out of the building several times.

Maysville police identified those killed as 35-year-old Lori Doppelheuer, 10-year-old Christopher Kearney, 3-year-old Eagan Hargis, 20-month-old Kieran Hargis and 68-year-old Larry R. Brickels.

Investigators believe the blaze began in a closed-in porch area at the rear of one of the row homes, Doyle said. They have ruled out arson and believe it was accidental. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The fire gutted three brick buildings, built in 1840. Two others were damaged.

"The type of construction that these row houses are, are essentially a large pile of kindling," he said.

The woman and three children who died were found in the back of the row home's upstairs, he said.

"It was very evident that they were trying to get out," Doyle said.

Firefighters tried to get inside one of the burning buildings and attempted to get upstairs, but the stairwell was weakening, and intense fire forced the crew back outside, the chief said.

He said another crew was sent up a ladder into a second-story window of the building where the family died, but the roof started collapsing.

"And we knew that there was no survivable space in the rear of that portion, which is where the victims ended up being," Doyle said.

Doyle said the home where the children died didn't have any working smoke detectors. The building where the neighbor died did have detectors.

No firefighters were injured. Crews remained at the buildings, applying water to one of the buildings. Relatives of the victims stood and sat across the street watching. They declined comment.

Doyle said about 40 firefighters from several departments helped battle the blaze, which displaced about 30 people.

Austen also said the fire was rapid.

"It spread so quick, it was unreal," she said.