Two firefighters were shot and killed after a gunman apparently lured them to a house fire in New York state early Monday morning.

The suspect opened fire on a group of firefighters responding to the blaze around 5:30 a.m. in Webster, N.Y. He exchanged fire with police officers before killing himself.

Two firefighters died and two others remain in hospital with serious injuries, said Webster police Chief Gerald Pickering.

"It does appear it was a trap that was set for first responders but positive reasons we don't have at this time," Pickering told reporters, at times appearing to struggle to hold back tears.

Police have identified the suspect as 62-year-old William Spengler, who was convicted of manslaughter in the 1980 death of his 92-year-old grandmother. Spengler spent 17 years in the New York State prison system before being released on supervised parole.

He lived with his 67-year-old sister, Cheryl Spengler, who is unaccounted for, authorities said.

Their mother, Arline, also lived at the home before she died in October.

Pickering said it’s believed that the gunman opened fire from high ground, possibly from a berm near the home.

As a convicted felon, Spengler could not legally own firearms.

The two deceased firefighters have been identified as Lt. Mike Chiapperini, who was both a firefighter and a member of the Webster police, and Tomasz Kczowka, a volunteer firefighter.

Chiapperini, 43, was named Firefighter of the Year just two weeks ago, and had recently taken vacation time to help recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy, according to a local newspaper. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Kaczowka was just 19 years old and worked as a 911 dispatcher for Monroe County. He was also a student at Monroe County Community College.

The injured have been identified by police as firefighters Theodore Scardino and Joseph Hofstetter.

Dr. Nicole Stassen, a trauma physician at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y., confirmed Monday that Scardino and Hofstetter are being treated at the hospital for "significant injuries."

She said Scardino suffered two gunshot wounds. One bullet struck his left shoulder, causing multiple breaks in the shoulder blade and travelling through a portion of his left lung. The bullet is still embedded in Scardino's shoulder, and may remain there permanently, Stassen said.

The other bullet struck Scardino's right knee, causing significant damage though it did not break any bones. Stassen said Scardino will likely be able to walk on the knee once his recovery is complete.

Stassen said Hofstetter has a "complex" injury resulting from a bullet that struck his pelvis. The bullet is embedded in part of his spine and has not been removed -- and likely never will be, she said.

Both men are in intensive care and their recovery is expected to take months, Stassen said.

Seven houses destroyed in blaze

An investigation is underway. Authorities say the location on Lake Road is still an “active crime scene.”

Earlier Monday, houses in the immediate area were evacuated using an armed personnel carrier.

After smouldering for several hours, fire crews managed to contain the Lake Road blaze. By then, Pickering said seven homes had been “totally destroyed” by the blaze.

“We have yet to get into any of the homes, we don’t know if there are any additional victims in those homes,” Pickering told reporters Monday afternoon.

Webster is a town in Monroe County, N.Y., just east of Rochester and south of Lake Ontario.

The area surrounding the Lake Road fire is a residential neighbourhood, where homes sit approximately 35 to 40 feet apart. Reports indicate some homes in the area are vacant, but it's unclear whether anyone lived at the address affected by the fire.

With files from The Associated Press