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Tue October 30, 2007
Investigation Continues into Fatal Beach House Fire
By Megan V. Williams
Wilmington, NC – Investigators hunting for the cause of Sunday's deadly house fire in Ocean Isle Beach are concentrating on the structure's back deck, according to town officials.
In interviews Monday, town mayor Debbie Smith said investigators believe the fire was accidental.
Brunswick County Emergency Manager Randy Thompson says the State Bureau of Investigation may be ready to release their findings as early as this Friday.
Even as the search for answers continues, the 911 calls made that morning tell a chilling story about the fire's size and speed. More than a dozen people reported the blaze before firetrucks arrived, calling authorities from the beach, the Ocean Isle bridge, and even from a boat along the coast.
Several of the callers described the house as 'engulfed' in flames.
"I hear a lot of people, I mean, it's burning really badly," One man says on the recording. "There's a lot of flames. But you can hear people yelling for people at the house."
"Like people are in there?" The dispatcher asks.
"Yeah, like people are in there."
Six of the thirteen college students staying at the house managed to escape the fire, many by jumping from second-story windows. But seven of their peers perished in the blaze.
At the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where all but one of the dead were students, flags are flying at half staff. The campus held an informal memorial Monday night, with plans for a second service next week.
The president of Clemson University, where the seventh victim was a student, said in a statement Monday that loss has united the two campuses.
The AP wire service contributed to this report