UPDATED 04/07/11 10:15 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Three young children — ages 2, 4 and 9 — were killed early Thursday in a fire in the Englewood neighborhood.

The fire broke out around 2:15 a.m., on the first and second floors of the 2-1/2 story frame building at 6758 S. Emerald Ave.

Fire Media Affairs Director Larry Langford confirmed that a child playing with a lighter was to blame.

A tiny spark set off by the little fingers of a child spread quickly in the bunk in which he lay. Authorities say the parents tried dousing the fire with pots and pans filled with water, but the flames raged out of control.

“I tried to put the fire out. I realized it wasn’t going to go out,” father Stacey Austin told CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman. “So I’m like, let’s get the kids out of here, and I thought I had all my children out, but I didn’t.”

One child, a 2-year-old girl naamed Dashiyah, was found dead on the first floor and was pronounced dead at the scene, Fire Media Affairs spokesman Richard Rosado said. Two others, — Stacey Jr., 9, and 4-year-old Joseph — were taken to the hospital where they later died, officials said.  The children died from smoke inhalation, Langford said.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bernie Tafoya reports

Austin told the Sun-Times Media Wire he saw one of his sons playing with a lighter. His 10 children were all in the home when the fire started.

“There were so many of them, 10 of them,” said the children’s mother, Samantha Sims, crying. “I tried so hard to take care of them.”

Marcella Harper, a witness who lives across the street, said she first heard banging, and saw the family from the first floor run out and tell the family living upstairs there was a fire. Harper says she knows the two families and can’t believe what she saw.

“It’s so tragic. You never expect to witness something like this – never,” Harper said. “I’ve met the father of one of the victims. They’re a pretty tight-knit family. They took their kids in the yard. You would always see them come out and play with their dog, or go to school.”

An emotional Sheila Dorsey, who lived upstairs, became emotional as she described attempts to rescue the children who perished.

“There was so much flame. I tried to get them out,” she told CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker.  “We tried (but) the fire, it was taking our breath away.”

She was among four adults, three children and a dog in the upstairs apartment were able to escape to safety. Julius Sutton, 35, says he was visiting when the blaze began. When the family was later allowed back into the home to retrieve their belongings, they found the family’s cat, Tigger, alive in an upstairs closet.

Two Chicago Police officers suffered from smoke inhalation while responding to the fire, police News Affairs Officer Hector Alfaro said. One was taken to Holy Cross Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries while the other was treated at the scene.

The building’s manager, Seronsa Charles, said 17 people lived on the two floors and that each apartment had five bedrooms.

Fire officials said smoke detectors were working in the house and went off. Still, following the tragedy, firefighters spent the morning passing out smoke detectors to people in the neighborhood. They canvassed a 10-block area to make sure everyone had a working smoke detector.

Efforts are under way to help the displaced survivors. An account for the Austin family has been set up at U.S. Bank.

“They’re going to need help long after today,” Rev. James Thomas says.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.