(CNN) -- A raging fire that damaged five homes in a northeast Philadelphia neighborhood left a mother and her three children dead early Thursday morning, fire officials said.
A "very brief" miscommunication between a neighbor and firefighters made it initially unclear whether anyone was inside the home as it burned down in the Feltonville district of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, according to Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.
He said the neighbor thought firefighters were asking about his own home and had responded that everyone was out.
Other neighbors said they heard screams coming from inside the burning structure and believed that the family was still there, Ayers added.
Fire officials say they "have to assume that every property is occupied unless proven otherwise," said Fire Lt. Michael Grant.
He said officials dispatched multiple fire crews within minutes of receiving emergency calls from neighbors.
The house was quickly consumed by heavy smoke and flames, prompting firefighters to haul a fellow officer out of the fire.
No firefighter injuries were reported.
"You couldn't make out anything as far as the furniture, the only thing you could see were springs from the mattresses," Ayers said. "It was a very devastating fire."
He said the blaze was contained 35 minutes after officials were first notified of the fire.
Authorities later found a single smoke alarm in the basement of the house, according to Grant, but it had no batteries.
Three residents of the damaged homes were transferred to a Red Cross facility in the area, Grant added.
Authorities are investigating the cause of the fire.