NEW YORK - Seven children from the same family died Saturday when their New York home was engulfed in flames after a portable cooker malfunctioned, authorities said.

The so-called hot plate, which is a small electrical heating element, may have been left on to keep food warm because of Orthodox Jewish customs that bar cooking on the Sabbath, New York fire commissioner Daniel Nigro told a news conference.  ‘This is the largest tragedy by fire that this city has had in seven years,’ Nigro said in comments reported by The New York Times.

‘It's a tragedy for this family, it's a tragedy for this community, it's a tragedy for the city.’ Firefighters were called to the blaze in the home in the borough of Brooklyn shortly after midnight. The victims were aged between 5 and 15. A 45-year-old woman thought to be their mother and another girl survived and were being treated in area hospitals in critical condition.

‘I heard a woman yelling, 'My kids are in there. Get them out, get them out!'‘ a neighbor, Nate Weber, told the New York Post. Weber saw children being taken from the home on stretchers and ‘I knew it was bad news... I just turned away. I didn't even want to look,’ he said. Nigro said there was no sign of working smoke detectors on the first or second floors. The New York Fire Department responded to some 2,504 ‘serious incidents’ fires in 2014, according to its annual report.