Five children died when an explosion and fire raged through an apartment complex in Chester, Pa., and four children died in a New York City row house blaze while playing with matches or a lighter, authorities said.

In both fires Monday, hysterical mothers watched helplessly as flames destroyed their homes and families.In New York, two mothers desperately threw buckets of water on what authorities called a "wall of fire," but to no avail.

In the Pennsylvania fire, police Officer Michael Kruczaj said he arrived at the scene to find 25-year-old Michelle Arnold outside her burning apartment, holding one of her six children, a critically injured 13-month-old boy.

"My babies! My babies! They're still inside!" Arnold shouted at Kruczaj, he recalled later.

But the officer said the fire and smoke were too thick for him to attempt rescuing Arnold's other five children, three boys and two girls 2 to 6 years old. All died in the blaze.

The fire was caused by an explosion that rocked the Crosby Square Apartments Monday afternoon. The cause of the explosion remained undetermined, authorities said, but they noted that the apartments used gas heat.

Witnesses said Arnold was outside the apartment building talking to friends when the blast occurred. She ran inside and was able to rescue her 13-month old son, Marlon, just before Kruczaj arrived, authorities said.