Juju Chang, Olivia Katandjian & Jim Sciutto. From ABC News. Originally posted on March 9, 2011. Original article.
A deadly fire at a farmhouse near Harrisburg, Pa., killed seven children overnight as their mother milked cows in the barn and their father napped in his truck a short distance away.
Investigators believe the fire broke out after 10 p.m., about 15 minutes after the father, Theodore Clouse, left for a milk delivery. The mother, Janelle Clouse, had just gone to the barn to milk cows. One child, the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, who had been watching television, smelled smoke and ran out to the barn to alert her mother.
ABC News has learned that the initial investigation shows that the fire may have been caused by one of the children playing with a space heater. A source told ABC News they believe an open flame from the space heater set a child’s blanket on fire. The source said burn patterns indicate the fire started on the floor, spread to a piece of furniture, and then to the ceiling.
State trooper Tom Pinkerton was on the scene, in Blaine, a rural Mennonite community in Pennsylvania, about 20 miles outside Harrisburg. Pinkerton described the scene to ABC News as “devastating.”
Pinkerton said that Janelle Clouse unsuccessfully tried to get back into the house, and frantically banged on the windows. She ran to a neighbor’s house, but no one answered the door, so she tried another neighbor’s house and called 911 from there.
They then found the father, who had fallen asleep in his truck between milk deliveries. They woke him, and he returned to the house to find it engulfed in flames.
The county coroner said smoke inhalation killed all seven children — six daughters and one son, who ranged in age from 7 months to 11 years.
Today, the father, Theodore Clouse, came back to house as investigators looked over the wreckage. Friends of Clouse say he is still in shock.
Neighbor Mike Trout described the Clouses as “distraught and numb.”
“I am sure it hasn’t set in yet what exactly has taken place,” Trout told ABC News.
Trout said the fire has had an effect on everyone in this small community of just 2,500. Many of the Clouses’ Amish and Mennonite neighbors turned up today to help on the farm or just be close.