Three youngsters who spent Christmas night with their grandmother so she wasn't alone, died in a fire at her house.

The inferno razed the house in Washington Courthouse, Ohio to the ground in the early hours of Friday (26 December).

The dead included the 60-year-old grandmother Terry Harris and three of her grandchildren: nine-year-old Braylon Harris, 11-year-old Broderick and Kenyon aged 14.

Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth said: "They didn't want their grandma to be by herself on Christmas night; that's why they spent the night there.

"The children just adored their grandmother.

"The grandma was close to the front door. The other children were behind her and so we're just assuming that she was by the front door, that she was trying to corral the children to help them get out."

He told CBS News in Cleveland: "To lose three children and a grandparent, it's devastating to the family. The fact that it's the holidays makes it even worse for the community."

Stanforth said the fire could have been smouldering for hours. His first deputy arrived about three minutes after the first 911 call and the house had partially collapsed.

The Sheriff said that once the fire broke free in the small ranch house, the heat would likely have blown out the windows, and that would have fed the flames.

"That's why we saw such a fire ball and it went so quickly," he said.

Firefighters spent several hours looking for the bodies as the house was extremely hot and dangerous to enter.

The badly burned bodies were taken to the Montgomery County coroner's office to identify the remains and to allow post mortems, said Fayette County coroner Dr Dennis Mesker.

An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fire.