As flames roared through the house, family members who had fled the blaze early Wednesday morning met with neighbors in a nearby parking lot, anxiously waiting for Lenny and Karen Broulette to emerge from the smoke.
But of the eight people asleep inside the house at 190 N Florida Ave., only six escaped. Shortly after the fire was extinguished, investigators found the bodies of the couple in a downstairs bathroom.
Friends and family members were shocked that the couple, parents of three children, had died.
"I expected them to come walking around the corner at any minute. I couldn't believe they were still in the house," said Howard Radford, 56, Mrs. Broulette's father.
"Both bodies were found in the bathroom," said Mike Schlaudraff, county fire administrator "The man was in the tub. The woman was found on the floor."
The couple's children _ Allen, 13, Tabitha, 9, and Ashley, 5 _ escaped the fire. Also, family friends Mike Ilagan, 9-year-old Michael Kinder, and David Gilmore, the owner of the house, escaped without injury.
The cause of the fire was under investigation late Wednesday, but friends and family members suspect that a candle might be the source.
Fire officials said the blaze erupted at 2:02 a.m. By the time firefighters from Inverness, Hernando and Highlands arrived, flames were leaping out of every window in the two-story house, said Inverness Capt. Bill Dooley.
Gilmore said Lenny Broulette, 33, lived in Miami where he was a maintenance worker at an apartment complex. Mrs. Broulette, 28, lived in Hernando for the past year with their children.
At least once a month, Lenny Broulette traveled to Citrus County by bus or train to see his family for about three or four days at a time.
"Originally, they all lived in Miami, but Karen's parents lived here and she wanted to be near them," Gilmore said.
Gilmore said about four weeks ago, someone tried to break into the house where Mrs. Broulette lived. She was so frightened that she took her children to Miami and they stayed with her husband for the last three weeks.
The family returned to Citrus County on Monday, and Gilmore allowed them to stay at his three-bedroom house until they could gather their belonging from the Hernando apartment and move back to Miami today.
Hours before the tragedy, the house had been the scene of a daylong festive Fourth of July gathering. Several members of the family and close friends had shared drinks and lit fireworks until nearly midnight, Gilmore said.
Gilmore said he went to sleep in the upstairs bedroom about 10 p.m. while everyone else was still outside shooting fireworks.
He said he later learned that Lenny and Karen Broulette went to a friend's house about 11:30 p.m., borrowed a candle and retired to a downstairs bedroom.
Their three children, along with Ilagan and Michael Kinder, fell asleep in the living room watching television. By midnight, all was quiet.
Then, screams pierced the night.
"All I know is I heard the word fire," Gilmore said. "Then I heard people saying get up. So I got up, went downstairs and helped the kids get outside."
Gilmore found the children walking around dazed in the smoke-filled room. He quickly helped them get outside. Soon, the others from the house were accounted for. Everyone except Lenny and Karen Broulette.
On Wednesday State Fire Marshal Ed McKiernan refused to speculate about what he thinks caused the blaze. McKiernan would not say if he was aware of the candle that the Broulettes supposedly had lit in their room.