PALMYRA, Maine — Three friends who survived an early morning apartment building fire that claimed the lives of two others said smoke and flames consumed the two-story converted farmhouse very quickly.

“Within seven minutes that house was fully engulfed in flames,” Josh Lombard, a renter who lived at 81 Square Road with his girlfriend, twin 6-year-old sons and a 4-month-old, said Tuesday morning as firefighters continued to douse the debris with water.

Firefighters handling the 3 a.m. call out quickly learned that one couple was unaccounted for, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said in a news release.

Because of the flames and heat, however, it was not safe to enter the building. The bodies of the man and woman, whose names are not being publicly released until relatives can be notified, were recovered shortly after 7:30 a.m.

“It went up like a match,” Jordan Ballard, who lived in the other second-floor apartment, said from the scene mid-morning as he, Lombard and tenant Zack Martin, stood outside watching firefighters work. “It was quick.”

After Lombard and his girlfriend got the children outside and safe, Lombard said that she took them to a relative’s house and he turned his attention to getting others out.

“I opened the door to the hallway, and it was smoke, smoke, lots of smoke,” Ballard said. “I instantly turned and went to the window. I started yelling for help … and woke up Zack and his girlfriend.”

Martin, a renter who was being visited by his girlfriend, said he was awoken by yelling and the sounds of Ballard running around upstairs.

When he looked outside, he said, “I saw Josh helping Jordy [Ballard] get out the window.”

Ballard, dressed in pajamas, a T-shirt and socks, said he jumped from the second-floor window and was caught by Lombard.

Martin said he sent his girlfriend outside while he searched for the cat to no avail. While Lombard called 911, Martin and his girlfriend “went and got the landlords out.”

The apartment building was owned by Dot and Norm Barrows, according to their renters and a town clerk.

Lombard, Ballard and Martin, who are friends and also work together at J.M. Builders in Etna, said they also tried to help the couple who lived out back above the garage, but “the garage was fully engulfed,” Ballard said, showing a picture of massive flames that he took with his cellphone.

The three friends did not really know the couple who died, they said, saying that each group kind of kept to themselves.

Four investigators from the fire marshal’s office went to the scene and have determined that the “fatal fire started in one of the two apartments over the garage, but the cause continues to be worked on,” McCausland said in an afternoon update. “It was in one of those apartments that the two victims lived in.”

The bodies were taken to the state medical examiner’s office in Augusta for examination and identification, he said.

Selectman Mike Cray said he stopped by to check on the welfare of the displaced residents in the morning and by mid-afternoon had contacted the Palmyra Community Center Boosters who are assisting with “clothing and whatever else is needed to get them back on their feet.”

The Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross also is assisting, he said.

A total of 11 people lived in the converted farm’s six apartments.

“Some of those who escaped said they heard smoke detectors and others did not,” McCausland said Tuesday afternoon. “The exact cause of the fire will be difficult to determine, as the garage (and home were) flattened in the blaze.”