It happened shortly before 2 a.m. at 4151 Pecan Drive just outside Hope Mills.
Cumberland County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Debbie Tanna said that when deputies arrived, they found the soldier's wife outside the home. The woman and her husband had escaped the flames by jumping from a second-story window.
"She told us her husband had gone back inside to get their two daughters," said Tanna. "He never made it back out."
The dead soldier was identified as 36-year-old Chief Warrant Officer Edward Duane Cantrell. His daughters were 6-year-old Isabella and 4-year-old Natalia.
Cantrell was a member of the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. He recently returned from a mission in Afghanistan.
Cantrell's wife - 37-year-old Louise Cantrell - was treated for smoke inhalation and released from Cape Fear Valley Medical Center.
"Isabella and Natalia were two of the sweetest angels you could ask for, but they went home, and their daddy can watch over them," said family friend Angel Hardee.
A neighbor says firefighters told her it was hopeless.
"It looked like the girls were trying to raise up the window to get out and they couldn't," said neighbor Cindy Jacobs. "So the oldest one tried to open the door, and it like threw her back, and just the smoke inhalation just killed all three of them."
Grief counselors were at Baldwin Elementary School Tuesday where 6-year-old Bella was in kindergarten.
Near the home, friends and classmates dedicated a small memorial with flowers and stuffed animals to two little girls, and their father who gave his all trying to save them.
Fire investigators said they have a preliminary cause for the blaze but they told ABC11 that they want to confirm a few things before making something official. That will include talking with Louise Cantrell.
Neighbors said it's a tragedy that a man who went on so many missions to protect America couldn't save his daughters.
"With Special Forces, they go out, they save us here [in] America, and he tries to go back to save his girls, and he can't do it. It's just a shame. It's heartbreaking," said Jacobs.
A spokesperson for U.S. Army Special Forces Command said Cantrell completed one deployment to Iraq and five deployments to Afghanistan, most recently redeploying in August, 2011.
In the service since 1994, he received four Bronze Star medals and one Purple Heart, among many awards and decorations.
"The soldiers and families of Special Forces Regiment are deeply saddened by this tragedy. There are no words to express the sorrow felt in our close-knit community when one of our families suffers such a loss. We will continue to provide the family our support, our friendship, and our prayers, and ask that the public respects their right to privately grieve," said Special Forces Command in a statement.
Four groups are taking donations to not only help the Cantrell family, but other soldiers injured in combat. Specify if you want your donation to go to the Cantrells:
United State Army Special Operations Command Soldier, Family and Command Support Association
Special Operations Warrior Foundation
Special Forces Association
Special Forces Charitable Trust
or send a check to:
Special Forces Charitable Trust PO Box 53 Essex, Connecticut 06426