WINNIPEG - Investigators were trying Wednesday to determine the cause of a house fire in Winnipeg that left two women and two girls dead, and a baby girl clinging to life.

The blaze erupted Tuesday evening and engulfed the five people inside the home in thick, black smoke before they had a chance to escape.

Officials said it is unusual, though not unheard of, for a fire to spread so quickly that no one gets out.

"It depends on the actions people are taking, the nature of the construction of the building, where they were when the fire broke out, the speed and intensity with which that fire was propagated," said Bill Clark, Winnipeg's deputy fire chief.

"Those are scientific things that need to be investigated."

Crews were called to the semi-detached, split-level home in the West Kildonan neighbourhood and found smoke billowing out of windows. They went inside and pulled five people out.

"It was a very tough fire," Alex Forrest, head of the city's firefighters union, said Wednesday.

"Normally, in this type of building, firefighters may not even have went in, but given the fact that there were life situations, they put their own lives on the line to go in to rescue the individuals."

Paramedics, including one specializing in pediatric care, were on the scene and tried to stabilize the residents before sending them to hospital. The baby girl remained in hospital Wednesday in critical condition.

Media reports have said the adults were a mother and grandmother, and the children were under the age of 10 — all members of a family that had recently moved from Pakistan.

Police would not release the names or ages of the victims or confirm family connections. They did say an adult male who resides at the home was not inside when the fire broke out.

The police arson squad was called in, but police stressed it was simply standard practice.

"Just by the arson strike force being the lead investigators on this case, people should not judge that it is suspicious in nature," Const. Natalie Aitken said.

Investigators had not yet determined whether the home had working smoke detectors.

"We need to wait until the investigators and the police and the medical examiners have finished their work so that we actually have a cause and (the) nature of what happened," Clark said.

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