HAMMOND, La. (AP) _ A fire apparently caused by a gas space heater engulfed a house, killing three small children who had been left unattended by their mother, a fire department spokesman said today.

The fire, discovered just before midnight Friday, was quickly put out but firefighters were unable to rescue the children, who were pronounced dead at the scene, said Steve Wells of the Hammond Fire Department.

The children were identified as Gregory Sexton, 6, and his sisters Miranda, 4, and Erin, 2.

''One body was found in the living room and the two others in the bedroom, but they were burned beyond recognition,'' he said.

Their mother, Patsy Sexton, said she had left the children home alone about 30 minutes to visit a friend nearby, Wells said.

Ms. Sexton's landlord made a vain attempt to get into the house before firefighters arrived but was driven back by the flames, Wells said.

The gas space heater had been left on in the living room, he said.