LOYSVILLE, Pa. — The father was making his rounds in his milk truck and the mother was in the barn, milking the cows, when their 3-year-old daughter smelled smoke and ran for help.
By the time the parents reached their farmhouse, it was too late: Seven of their eight children were killed in a furious blaze Tuesday night in Pennsylvania's dairy country.
The victims ranged in age from 7 months to 11 years.
As schoolmates, friends and firefighters mourned, neighbors in the heavily Amish and Mennonite area converged on the farm to help out with the chores Wednesday morning, a few arriving by horse and buggy.
Even the grieving father, Theodore Clouse, kept busy, perhaps as a way of coping with the shock.
"He seems he might be just as good as to keep a little busy," the children's grandfather Noah Sauder told the Associated Press. "It's really hard, I'm sure."
The cause of the blaze was under investigation, but the grandfather said he suspected a propane heater in the kitchen. The surviving child told her mother that one of the other children was playing with the smoke, the children's grandmother, Arlene Sauder, told the AP.
The fire gutted the farmhouse, leaving a blackened shell in the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania, about 25 miles west of Harrisburg. A car parked beside the house was burned to the bare metal, its windows shattered. In the morning, school bus drivers and other motorists slowed along the rural two-lane highway, awed by the damage.
"People around here may not know if it's going to snow, but they know about this," said James F. Nickel, a funeral director in Loysville.
Six girls and a boy died of smoke inhalation, authorities said: Christina, 11; Isabele, 9; Brady, 7; Hannah, 6; Heidi, 4; Maranda, 2; and Samantha, 7 months.
The Clouse family lives among Amish and Mennonite farmers but attends the Church of the Living Christ, which describes itself as an independent Bible church. Noah Sauder said Janelle Clouse was raised Mennonite.