Fire at N.C. beach house kills 7 students
OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. -- An intense fire ravaged a beach house packed with college students early Sunday, killing seven and leaving little left of the structure but its charred frame and the stilts on which it stood.
Six survivors were hospitalized and released, including one who jumped from the burning home and into a waterway, Mayor Debbie 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."
Officials at the University of South Carolina said six of the students who died were from the school in Columbia; the seventh attended Clemson University. The six who survived were also from USC. The private home was being used by the owner's daughter and a group of her friends, Smith said.
"It's a very sad day for the University of South Carolina family," said Dennis Pruitt, dean of students. "We're deeply saddened by this."
The fire struck the house sometime before 7 a.m. and burned completely through the first and second floors, leaving only part of the frame standing. The waterfront home -- named "Changing Channels" -- was 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.
Winds blowing flames over the water, and not toward any of the other residences on the tightly packed row of vacation homes, kept the fire from spreading.
The intense heat kept Burns and others from attempting a rescue, although he said he had to fight to keep several of those who escaped from trying. He said when he approached the front door it was too hot to open.
"When I was going up to the entryway, 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."