RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A house fire that authorities said was caused by a pillow left next to an electric heater in a downstairs apartment killed three young girls and injured two other people early Sunday.

The home was engulfed with smoke and flames by the time firefighters arrived early Sunday morning after the blaze was called in by a neighbor in Richmond's historic Jackson Ward district.

``There were flames coming out of the front windows of the porch,'' said Everette Jasper, a fire department division chief.

Jasper said the resident of the downstairs apartment knocked on the door and tried to get the children and their mother to leave the upstairs apartment where they lived, but was forced out by intense heat.

Jasper said there were smoke detectors in both apartments, but authorities were unsure if they were working. The fire caused about $40,000 in damage.

The woman from the upstairs apartment was in critical condition at a local hospital. The man who lived in the downstairs apartment also was hospitalized but in less serious condition, Jasper said.

Officials have not released the names or ages of any of the victims, and the investigation was continuing.