The fire that killed a three-year-old girl in East Vancouver was sparked by two space heaters near her bed, Vancouver fire officials say.

The two-alarm fire broke out mid-afternoon Thursday at a rental home in the area of East 15th Avenue and Nootka Street.

A water operations crew from the city had been in the area sanding side streets when they noticed the fire. Crew members attempted to enter the home but were kept out because of the thick smoke.

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services Chief John McKearney said the fire is not suspicious, and fire and police investigators have determined the blaze was sparked by two space heaters in a main floor bedroom.

McKearney said the girl's mother had just put the twins down for a nap in their bedroom before the fire started.

The mom attempted to rescue both of her daughters from the room, but was only able to escape with one of the twins and their older brother.

"Unfortunately the young.. child was not able to escape, and perished at the scene," McKearney said.

The mother suffered serious burns to her hands and face when she frantically tried to save the toddler, and the children were treated for burns and smoke inhalation. They are all expected to survive.

The fire chief said the children’s father came home during the fire and was "very distraught." Another family that lives in the residence was not home at the time.

There were no working smoke detectors in the home, despite the fact they are required in Vancouver homes.

"If this family had a working smoke detector in the home we would probably not be having the conversation we're having now," said McKearney, adding that ideally each floor in the home should have a working alarm.

Fire Captain Jonathan Gormick said it's unclear whether it was the heater that caught fire itself, or if it set something else ablaze.

"We're not sure if maybe the space heater got tipped over or if it was just left too close to something that was combustible or if it malfunctioned," said Gormick.

There is a furnace in the home but it's unclear what condition it was in or whether it was working, he added.

The fatal fire has rattled the East Vancouver community.

City councillor Kerry Jang, who lives across the alley, said neighbours are devastated.

"This is really tough… I say hi to them every morning. Great kids, always outside playing," Jang said, tearing up.

A total of 45 firefighters worked on the "aggressive" blaze, including arson investigators and the city's social services team.

Emergency Social Services has been called to help the family, and resources have been called in to support firefighters who may be struggling emotionally with the situation.

"This is very much one of the toughest tragedies a community can have, a family can have. And certainly for our first responders to deal with," said McKearney.

A statement provided on behalf of the fire's victims, identifying them as the Lemus and Gavidia families, thanked the public for its outpouring of love, prayers and donations.

"This has been a devastating and life changing event for them," the statement read.

"We know that God will protect and provide for their family. They have felt his love and strength through the kind words, prayers, and love that they have received from family, friends and the community as a whole."

The statement said that online fundraisers have been set up for both families, to help cover their immediate needs. By Friday afternoon, the Lemus's page had raised more than $8,000, and the Gavidia page had raised more than $2,000.

"Anything you can do to help this family would be appreciated," one of the pages read.

Those who would prefer to make a donation in person or by mail can address them to the Tabernaculo Biblico Bautista El Redentor Church located at 2551 East 49th Ave. A person close to the family said gift cards, clothing and groceries would be appreciated.

The family is also looking for housing, and would prefer to stay in the area near their home and the children's school.

Icy streets did not affect response time: officials

Suggestions that slippery conditions in the area hindered emergency crews' response times are unfounded, officials have said.

A neighbour told CTV News the streets in the neighbourhood have been "treacherous" this winter, adding that a driver had actually hit a tree in front of the home that caught fire recently. Video from the scene on Thursday showed ambulances parked some distance from the home, so paramedics had to tread carefully across the slick street and sidewalk to reach those in need of help.

But crews said the decision to park down the street is standard practice, and was not weather related. Ambulances are typically parked some distance from the scene of an active fire for safety reasons, officials said.

The vehicles are equipped with snow tires year-round to help them navigate difficult terrain. They have access to chains, but said that the amount of time it would take to chain up would delay paramedics' arrival in a situation where a few minutes can make a big difference.

The city's fire chief also answered questions about quality of the roads, saying the trucks had arrived within two minutes and 35 seconds, the department's standard timeframe. While the roads were icy, he admitted, the units that responded were equipped with tire chains.

He added that crews at the scene requested sand to be brought in, but that the request was largely due to the amount of water used to fight the fire.

Possible dangers of space heaters

The fire departments says, as a general rule, space heaters should be kept a minimum of one metre away from any potentially combustible items – and never leave them unattended.

It is not known what caused the space heaters to ignite in this case, but there are some things users can do to reduce the risk of fire.

Space heaters are the cause of about 40 per cent of home heating fires, so those looking at buying a device are advised to do research before making a purchase.

Look for a space heater with a "tip over" switch that shuts it off if it is knocked over, and an overheat sensor that turns it off if it gets too hot, experts recommend

Always keep heaters at least a metre away from anything flammable, including furniture and rugs, and keep the unit clean at all times.

Never leave space heaters unattended, and turn them down or off when going to sleep.

Vancouver residents who are nervous about fire hazards in their homes can call 311 and arrange to have a local fire crew come to the residence and perform a fire safety check. The safety checks can also be scheduled online. Following the inspection, firefighters can also install a smoke alarm for free if the residence doesn't already have a working one.

Detectors can also be purchased at some drugstores and most hardware stores, and should be replaced every 10 years as the sensors inside can lose sensitivity.

The batteries should be changed and detectors should be vacuumed twice a year. The City of Vancouver recommends testing them every month.

In the case of Thursday's fire, investigators said there were no working smoke detectors in the home.

With files from CTV Vancouver's Nafeesa Karim, Maria Weisgarber, Penny Daflos and Ben Miljure

Child dies in East Vancouver fire