Pastor and 3 Grandchildren Among 6 Family Members Killed in Wisconsin House Fire: 'Such a Tremendous Loss'

The fire broke out just before 2:30 a.m. at a vacation rental where the family was staying near the Wisconsin Dells

Six people, including a 66-year-old pastor and his three young granddaughters, died after an early-morning fire broke out at their vacation rental home near the Wisconsin Dells, authorities said.

The tragedy claimed the lives of Rev. Steve Witte, his adult daughters Lydia Witte and Charis Kuehl, and his granddaughters Stella Kuehl, Lena Henselin and Merci Henselin, according to a GiveSendGo fundraiser and the family’s church, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

The fire started shortly before 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 30, at a home in Necedah, according to a news release from the Juneau County Sheriff’s Office.

Emergency responders first believed two or three people were still inside the residence when they arrived on scene. They found “multiple individuals” in the driveway of the home, which was fully engulfed in flames.

Related: Two Brothers Dead in West Texas Crash That Injured Mom and Sibling: 'Great Sadness'

Despite battling the fire for about three hours, authorities soon determined six people were unaccounted for and still inside the residence, the sheriff’s office said.

“The pain of losing six members of one family cannot be described with words,” Mark Schroeder, the president of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, said in a statement.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

Witte, who was a minister at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Green Bay in the early 2000s, had most recently served as a missionary in Thailand.

Pastor Larry Schlomer told NBC affiliate WMTV that Witte initially escaped the fire before realizing that his grandchildren were trapped inside.

Related: Fire Captain Who Was Deployed to Ground Zero on 9/11 Dies After Being Pinned Under Boat on Rafting Trip

“He actually made it out of the house and found out that two of his granddaughters were still inside,” Schlomer told the news station. “He went back in, seeing if he could save them and unfortunately, did not make it.”

He added, “It was such a tremendous loss, that many deaths within the same family.”

The Wisconsin Department of Justice and the State Fire Marshal are currently investigating the cause of the fire, which appears to have been an accident, the sheriff’s office said.

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.