The five-alarm fire tore through a commercial building in Elizabeth Monday evening, apparently starting in a first-floor dollar store soda machine and quickly spreading, trapping the victims in a second-floor furniture store.
The youngest victim was identified as 8-year-old Daniela Marquez, removed Monday, while her 10-year-old sister Paola was among those found Tuesday morning.
Their mother, Merlyn Vasquez, remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit. Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage said she was gravely injured.
A family friend, 11-year-old Elizabeth Correas, was also killed, along with another woman identified as Candida Martinez-Del Reyes, who was also found under the debris Tuesday morning.
Residents came together Wednesday evening to pray and bring closure to the family that is suffering.
Authorities believe smoke detectors were working, but the building was engulfed so quickly that even first responders who arrived in minutes were helpless to rescue the victims.
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Their efforts were impeded by locked bars on a converted door and an incredible amount of smoke, and all of the victims were all found near the locked gate.
Authorities say the building is owned by Okay Roger Reality, of Brooklyn, and there are now questions about the escape route that was blocked and turned into a death trap.
Some residents at the vigil claim that the building has "illegal conversions" and want the store owner to be brought to justice.
They claim that the last inspection inside the furniture store was four years ago, when the new owner purchased the location.
"The fire and police department did a miraculous job early, but the smoke overcame them," said Bollwage, who called it a "sad day."
Officials say the fire was fueled by cribs and other items inside the furniture store, which proved easy tinder for the flames.
Three police officers happened to be only a block away, and Eyewitness News was told they were on the scene immediately and tried desperately to reach the victims.
It took more than 100 firefighters 3 1/2 hours to get the scene under control.
"It was hard to control from spreading," Elizabeth Fire Director Pat Byrnes said. "We didn't see white smoke until an hour. It was constant black smoke, and we were putting lot of water on it."
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Dozens of residents were also displaced.
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