Three young girls and one woman are dead after they were trapped behind a metal gate while trying to escape from a five-alarm fire at furniture store in New Jersey.
The devastating blaze occurred on Monday night at a two-story commercial building in Elizabeth that housed a dollar store on the ground floor and a furniture shop on the second level, Kelly Martins, a public information officer for the city, tells PEOPLE.
Authorities believe the fire was sparked by a soda machine located on the ground floor and the flames quickly spread to the upper level, where all the victims were located.
The victims initially tried to escape through a rear staircase that connected to the dollar store, but the smoke was too heavy and pushed them to another exit that was blocked by a metal gate, according to Martins.
RELATED: Father and His 3 Children Killed After Fire Caused by Christmas Tree Burns Through Apartment
Martins said the victims and police officers who were first at the scene struggled to open the gate. When the fire department arrived, rescuers were able to break through the metal barrier and pull a mother and her daughter from the flames.
One other child was also rescued from the front of the building, according to Martins.
All three were transported to Trinitas Regional Medical Center, where the two children, Daniela Marquez, 8, and her friend Elizabeth Correas, 11, died.
The mother — identified as Merlyn Vasquez, 36 — remains in critical condition as of Tuesday afternoon, Martins said.
gofundme Merlyn Vasquez (center) and her two daughters
RELATED: Connecticut Teen Saves Mother and Her 3 Children by Pulling Them Out of Their Burning Car
Firefighters discovered the bodies of one other adult and one child at the furniture store on Tuesday morning, according to Martins.
Authorities believe the two additional victims were Candida Martinez-Del Reyes, 41, and Paola Marquez, the 10-year-old daughter of Vasquez.
“It’s extremely sad,” Mayor Chris Bollwage said in a press conference on Tuesday, WABC reported. “It was a family shopping. I don’t know what to say except this is a real tragedy, not only for the family, but for their relatives and our entire city.”
A GoFundMe page set up in support of Vasquez and her family. As of Tuesday afternoon, it has raised $12,983 out of its $15,000 goal.
Martins said the owner of the building had no open violations at the time of the fire. An investigation is ongoing.