There were no working smoke detectors in the upper-level apartment where the three children and their mother died, fire officials have said.
Preliminary reports indicate the fire started on a back covered porch of one of the units where the fifth victim, an elderly man, lived. His apartment did have a working smoke detector. He died at Meadowview Regional Medical Center.
Firefighters said they found the homes fully engulfed in flames when they arrived about 1 a.m. Multiple fire crews assisted. The cause remains under investigation, but it is believed to be accidental.
"I mean it's a huge loss, I mean I can't even tell you what a loss it is. We've lost five....five very dear, dear people in this community and its indescribable. I don't even know what to say," said Christa Moore, a neighbor.
"The mother apparently tried to save the children and was overcome," the mayor said. "It's just a real tragedy."
A damage estimate was not immediately available.
The homes appear to have sustained heavy damage, and the mayor said the roof caved in.
It's not clear if the homes, which have common walls, can be salvaged, he said.
The American Red Cross arrived at 2 a.m. to begin helping several displaced residents.
Rebecca Cartmell, the disaster volunteer, said they served breakfast, hot coffee and handed out blankets.
Volunteers remained throughout the day and also helped first responders.
"We are assisting the victims with their emergency needs and hope to help them with their future recovery plans," she said. "I'd say this is a recovery we will be involved in for several weeks."
This is not the first time a fire has killed children in Maysville.