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Seven children killed in US blaze

Seven of a US couple's eight children have been killed in a farmhouse fire.

The children, aged between seven months and 11, died as fire gutted a farmhouse 25 miles west of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a heavily Amish and Mennonite area.

The cause was under investigation, but the children's grandfather Noah Sauder 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, said.

The father, Theodore Clouse, had left two of his children, aged two and three, watching television at around 10pm on Tuesday when he went to begin his milk rounds, police said. He was pumping milk at a dairy farm a mile or two away when he nodded off in his truck, authorities said.

Soon after, the three-year-old alerted her mother, who apparently tried to get into the house. Janelle Clouse ran to the homes of two neighbours before getting someone to call the fire department, then went with the child to the father's truck and banged on its windows, screaming that their home was on fire, state police said.

Six girls and a boy died of smoke inhalation, authorities said: Christina, 11; Isabele, nine; Brady, seven; Hannah, six; Heidi, four; Maranda, two; and Samantha, seven months.

The Clouses live among Amish and Mennonite farmers but attend the Church of the Living Christ, which describes itself as an independent Bible church. Mr Sauder said Mrs Clouse was raised Mennonite.

Those who know the couple described them as hard-working people who raised cows, delivered milk and grew alfalfa and corn with the children's help. The youngsters' mother is six months pregnant, according to her mother.

One fellow dairy farmer, Mike Trout, said that a team of neighbours was already assembled for evening milking chores, and that people were volunteering to help if the family decides to rebuild.

"It's like the community's just pitching in and taking charge," said another farmer, John D Hoover. Donations have already taken care of burial expenses, said the Rev Adam Williams of the family's church.

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