PHENIX, Va. (AP) _ A fire roared through a crowded house early Sunday, killing two children and three mentally retarded adults and injuring four other people, authorities said.

The fire apparently started near a wood stove and the rural, two-story house was in flames by the time firefighters arrived, Charlotte County investigator W.H. Gholson said.

Phenix firefighters were aided by neighboring departments from Redhouse and Brookneal, but the blaze destroyed the house.

There were 11 people in the house at the time the fire broke out, officials said. Jackie Hamlett, one of the two who escaped unhurt, identified the victims as Helen Schofield, 49; Dennis Jones, 21; Ruth Berger, 64; Amir Hall, 3; and Rashanda Carrington, 18 months.

''We tried to get the people out of there for 20 or 30 minutes,'' said Chief Walter Bailey of the Phenix Volunteer Fire Department. ''Then the fire and the heat got to be too much, and I had to pull everybody back.''

Beatrice Vaughan, 84, was listed in critical condition Sunday night at Lynchburg General Hospital with burn injuries. Three other occupants were treated and released, Gholson said.

The home was owned by Helen Barrett, who was among those who escaped with minor injuries, Gholson said.

Ms. Barrett said the three adults were mentally retarded wards of the state and she was paid by Charlotte County Social Services to take care of them. She said they had lived in her home for as much as 16 years and were relatively self-sufficient.

Leddie Fuller, director of county social services, could not be reached for comment early Monday; telephone calls to her home went unanswered.

Bailey said the fire apparently started after Ms. Barrett added wood to the stove and returned to bed.

''We don't know if it was a defective flue or if there was combustible material near the stove right now. We think it probably came from a spark that flew out.''

Ms. Vaughan discovered the fire when she went downstairs to warm up, Bailey said.

''She got burned by the fire, and that's when Barrett and (resident) Cathryn Hamlett came in and tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher. Then they started with buckets of water, but they couldn't do anything to it.''

Ms. Barrett and Cathryn Hamlett went to a neighbor's house, where they called the fire department. They were both treated and released.

Officials said Cathryn Hamlett was Ms. Barrett's daughter, and some of the other people in the house were related, but they weren't sure of their exact relationship. They said the only retarded adults who were wards of the state were apparently the three adults who died.

Four bodies were recovered, but the body of the younger child, who had been sleeping on the second floor, had not been found, Bailey said.