CITRA, Fla. – Cries of "My babies! My babies!" jolted Angela and R.J. Stroud awake as a huge fire engulfed their neighbor's woodframe house, killing five children trapped inside.
Flames shot 20 feet above the roof as the children's mother, 31-year-old Krista Jordan, frantically cried for help from the front yard. The children were still inside their home in this semirural community of central Florida.
The Strouds ran from their nearby trailer home and Angela Stroud began frantically punching out windows in the burning house with her bare hands. With her husband, she located Jordan's 21-year-old sister, Kyla Cole, pulling her semiconscious from a bedroom window as dense black smoke billowed overhead.
"We laid her on the ground, she was breathing. We thought plastic might be melted to her face, but that was actually her skin melted," said R.J. Stroud. "We busted more windows to try to get the kids out, but the smoke was so bad we couldn't get the kids out."
Despite all attempts, the Strouds and other neighbors were unable to find the three boys and two girls as flames devoured the home Monday night. By the time firefighters arrived, minutes after a 911 call shortly after 10:30 p.m., they reported flames were already beyond control.
When it was over, all five children were dead.
Kyla Cole was airlifted to a hospital with first- and second-degree burns to her face and upper body. The children's mother and grandmother, 54-year-old Linda Cole, were also taken to the hospital with non life-threatening injuries, authorities said.
Dennis Flood, who lives with his family in another trailer near Jordan's 1,400-square-foot house, was watching wrestling on television when he heard crackling and thought it was a tree falling down. He ran outside and found Krista Jordan in her yard screaming hysterically.
"The mom was on the ground bleeding and she was shouting, 'Get my babies out! Get my babies out,'" Flood said.
Flood and his brothers, Paul and Ron, tried to get to the house but said the heat was fierce. They grabbed a hose from their yard but it didn't reach far enough.
"Between the smoke and how hot it was, we couldn't get near it. We tried," said Flood, 44. "We kind of feel guilty we couldn't do anything more."
The cause of the fire is still unknown, but fire investigators say they have ruled out anything suspicious. The three adults and five children were asleep when the fire started, but Kyla Cole woke up and alerted other family members, said Lt. Robby Stephens of the State Fire Marshal division.
Fire investigators said there was a space heater inside but they don't know if that was the source of the fire, which apparently began in the middle of the house.
More than two dozen firefighters from seven fire stations responded, some within minutes after receiving the call, said Miranda Iglesias, a spokesman for Marion County Fire Rescue. Neighbors, though, said the response took much longer. By the time firefighters arrived, the house was nearly engulfed in flames.
"Obviously, they couldn't get inside. They went into defensive mode," Iglesias said.
Firefighters pulled 6-year-old Trinity Jordan and her sister, 12-year-old Cheyenne from a window alive but the girls went into cardiac arrest and died at a hospital. Their three brothers were trapped in another area, their remains recovered after the fire was put out.
The children's grandfather, Robert Cole, identified the boys as Joseph Jordan, 15, his 13-year-old brother Austin and 8-year-old William Jr.
Flood said the children's mother was a manager at a fast food restaurant and worked long hours to support the family. Cole described his grandchildren as caring, obedient youngsters.
"Those kids were my daughter's world," Cole said.
Kennedy and Jennifer Kay contributed to this report from Miami.