CHICAGO (AP) _ As a fire swept through a third-floor apartment on the city's North Side early Sunday, Al Tillman raced up the stairs, crawled inside the smoke-filled home and pulled a small, crying boy to safety.

Afterward, thoughts of the four girls and two boys left behind him.

``I'm shaken up because the other children didn't make it,'' the 32-year-old Tillman said. ``I only heard one child. I wish I could have saved the others.''

The blaze injured the mother of most of the victims and three siblings, authorities said. A candle may have caused the fire, officials said.

``This is the largest multiple fire fatality we've had from a single fire in quite a few years. I mean it's children. It's difficult for everyone involved,'' said a visibly shaken Fire Commissioner Raymond Orozco.

The family had been without electricity for at least a month and had been relying on candles for light, the commissioner said. ``It appears that candles were used in the apartment and right now our preliminary cause is that the candles were the cause of origin,'' Orozco said.

The three-bedroom apartment in the Rogers Park neighborhood had no smoke detectors, he said. The apartment hadn't had electricity since May, said John Dewey, a spokesman for utility Commonwealth Edison. He declined to say why it was turned off, citing confidentiality reasons.

The fire broke out just after midnight, authorities said.

``Then the mother came running out with one child in her arms, screaming to the neighbors that there were other children inside,'' said Cmdr. Will Knight. ``They asked her how many and she said `eight.'''

Derrell Dixon said two children appeared at a window and he and several other neighbors held up a blanket, trying unsuccessfully to get them to jump to safety.

``The kids were screaming and screaming 'Help! Help! We're burning, we're burning,''' said Dixon, 22, who said he saw firefighters rescue one of the children with a ladder.

Firefighters found most of the children huddled in the apartment's front room, not far from the spot where the fire probably started, said fire department spokesman Larry Langford.

The dead were identified by the Cook County medical examiner's office as Vanessa Ramirez, 14; Eric Ramirez, 12; Suzette Ramirez, 10; Idaly Ramirez, 6; Kevin Ramirez, 3; and Escarlet Ramos, 3.

Fire officials initially said all the children were siblings, but the medical examiner listed a different address for Ramos. It could not be confirmed late Sunday how Ramos was related.

The mother and a 3-month-old girl were discharged from Thorek Memorial Hospital after being treated for smoke inhalation, nursing supervisor Rosario Fordley said. Two other children were at other hospitals and their conditions were not immediately released.

A friend of one of the Ramirez children said their mother originally was from Mexico, but the family had been in the United States for at least 16 years.

``The community is in shock,'' Jasmin Lamb, 16, said tearily as she placed pink and white carnations on the sidewalk near the apartment. ``They were a nice, warm family. My friend never got into any trouble.''