Alun James, a taxi driver, was preparing an early-morning meal when the fire started at his Victorian terraced house in Workington, Cumbria. His wife Andrea, 30, died with her four children, Andrew, 11, Graeme, 5, and Katrina Bottrell, 3 - all from Mrs James's previous marriage - and the couple's own 16-month-old daughter Glynis.
Hours after yesterday's fire, Mr James returned to the scene of the tragedy and wept when he discovered a child's shoe in the charred remains of his house. Neighbours walking by stopped to give a few words of comfort.
He then walked slowly into the house, which had blackened outer walls and windows. Ten minutes later Mr James came out, his face twisted in grief.
In a joint statement last night, Cumbria police and fire service said: "An initial investigation of the fire indicates that it started in the kitchen of the house near the cooker. The fire was discovered by Mr James who was in the house at the time and had started to prepare a meal on the cooker. Mrs James and the four children were all in bed at the time."
Mr James rushed out of the house through the front door as the fire spread and neighbours raised the alarm.
Firemen wearing breathing apparatus recovered the bodies, said Assistant Divisional Fire Officer John Threapleton.
Last night, Mr James was being comforted at the nearby home of the local parish priest, Father Dyfrig Harris.
Prayers were said for the dead at a morning mass at St Mary's Catholic Church. The service had been scheduled because of VJ Day. A celebration to mark the event 50 years ago, planned for last night, was cancelled as a mark of respect.
Mr Threapleton, describing Mr James's visit to the house, said: "He was very distressed. He saw the child's shoe, picked it up and wept. All our sympathies go out to him. To lose one member of your family is bad enough but to lose five is appalling."