7 dead in N.C. beach house fire

  1. 7 dead in N.C. beach house fire

    Mostly USC students in home

    By From staff and wire reports

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    AP Brian Brough
    Various fire departments regroup at the scene of a fatal fire on on Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007. Fire ravaged the beach house occupied by more than a dozen people, most of them college students, killing six early Sunday and sending several more to a hospital, authorities said. (AP Photo/Wilmington Star-News, Brian Brough)

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    OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. _ An early morning fire ravaged a beach house occupied by more than a dozen people early Sunday -- mostly University of South Carolina students, killing seven and sending several more to a hospital, authorities said.
    Most of those inside the home were students at USC, although Mayor Debbie Smith said one may have attended Clemson University. The private home was being used by the owner's daughter and a group of her friends, she said.
    USC grief counselors, including a school chaplain, were consoling students this afternoon at the Delta Delta Delta sorority house in the Greek Village.
    Authorities there would not discuss why, and referred questions to USC officials, who have scheduled a 5:30 p.m. news conference "to discuss the house fire that occurred early this morning in Ocean Isle, N.C." The press briefing had originally been scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
    Sorority members said five of their "sisters" had taken a trip to Ocean Isle Beach this weekend, but they did not know any more details. The trip was not organized through the sorority, they said.
    Smith said one person remains missing. The six people hospitalized were all treated and released a short time later, include one survivor who jumped from the burning home and into an adjacent waterway.
    "Nothing like this has ever happened at Ocean Isle Beach," Smith said.
    "There were three kids sitting on the ground screaming," said newspaper deliverer Tim Burns, who called 911 after seeing a column of smoke rising from the house. "There was one guy hanging out the window and he jumped in the canal. I know he got out because he was yelling for a girl to follow him."
    Burns said he didn't know if that girl was able to escape.
    Burns said he had to fight to keep several of those who escaped from the fire from going back inside to try and rescue their friends. When he approached the front door, he said, it was much too hot to open.
    "When I was going up to the entry way, you could hear the windows above me explode," Burns said. "When I knew the flames had taken over, I don't think I've ever felt as helpless in my life."
    The victim's bodies will be taken to the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill, and officials said it would be several days before their identities are released. Authorities from the State Bureau of Investigation and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are leading the investigation, said Randy Thompson, Brunswick County's emergency services director.
    The fire struck the house on Scotland Street sometime before 7 a.m. and burned completely through the first and second floors, leaving only part of the home's frame standing. The waterfront home is built on stilts, forcing firefighters to climb a ladder onto the house's deck to reach the first living floor. Smith said the house was a total loss.
    "We ran down the street to get away," said Nick Cain, a student at the University of North Carolina who was staying at a house about 100 feet away. "The ash and the smoke were coming down on us. We were just trying to get away."
    Authorities erected a blue tarp to block the view of the fire scene, but neighbor Bob Alexander said he saw investigators removing bodies from the gutted remains of the home early Sunday afternoon. Family members of some victims who gathered in a chapel across the street from the town hall declined speak with reporters.
    "It's terrible to see somebody's children come out of that house this way," Alexander said.
    Smith said the home had working smoke detectors, but did not have sprinklers. Thompson said it could be a day or more before investigators pinpoint a cause.
    University of South Carolina spokesman Russ McKinney said school officials had been in touch with officials in Ocean Isle Beach and were headed there Sunday afternoon. The university in Columbia, S.C., planned a news conference for later in the afternoon.
    Amy Myers, a spokeswoman for Brunswick Community Hospital, said the hospital received the six injured victims from the fire. All were treated and released, she said.
    Ocean Isle Beach is at the far southern end of North Carolina's Atlantic Coast, about 30 miles north of Myrtle Beach, S.C. Only about 500 people live there year-round, but the town is home to several thousand rental and vacation homes and condos.
    The burned home sits on one of a series of peninsulas, all tightly packed with homes, that are about two blocks from the beach and connect with the Intracoastal Waterway
     
  2. This happened in my county and has been a huge story. It's unbelievably sad that kids doing something most of us did at that age--hanging out with friends--could die like this.

    Now they think the fire started on the deck. There's always wind off the ocean so speculation is a grill or candle somehow sparked the fire. All the beach homes are wood and look like they could go up quickly.