OXFORD, Ohio – A fire ripped through a two-story, brick home filled with 11 people near the Miami University (search) campus, killing three students, injuring two others and forcing one person to jump to safety from a second-story window.
School spokesman Richard Little said it was the deadliest fire involving the university since a student died in an off-campus blaze in 1994. "This is as severe as anything we've ever dealt with," he said.
Investigators believe the fire was accidental and may have started in a recreation room downstairs. Police said they arrived at the house at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday and saw flames in the first- and second-story windows.
"Nobody understood what was happening until we saw the huge flames coming from the house," said Muna Osman, 21, a Miami student who lives next door. "It was terrible, just terrible. The smoke was thick and white, and it just covered everything."
Two students, Julia Turnbull, 21, of Milford, Ohio, and Kathryn Welling, 21, of Bronxville, N.Y., died of carbon monoxide. A cause of death was not immediately known for Stephen Smith, 22, of Bethesda, Md. All three bodies were burned beyond recognition, said Butler County Coroner Richard Burkhardt.
Turnbull and Welling were found in separate, second-floor bedrooms, Fire Chief Len Endress said. Smith was found near the front door. Two residents were released after treatments at McCullough-Hyde Hospital.
Endress said investigators believe 11 people were in the house when the fire started — seven residents and four guests — and that a 911 call came from someone in the house awakened by a smoke detector.
Endress said all four people on the first floor left the house safely. Three of the seven people on the second floor got out through a fire escape and one jumped out a window. He stumbled to a hospital emergency room about 100 yards away.
"A guy jumped out of a second-story window and walked straight into the hospital, head down, a nasty cut on his leg," said Alli Davis, 18, who had been sitting on the roof of a nearby house when the fire started.
The roof of the two-story, brick house had partially collapsed and all the windows had been blown out. The house is in a neighborhood of older homes surrounded by large trees a few blocks from campus.
It took firefighters 90 minutes to bring the fire under control. "It looked like the house had wings of flame, almost," said Jesse Gerulis, a Miami sophomore who lives in a nearby university housing complex.
Miami officials met with the survivors of the fire early Sunday to offer help.
"We are doing everything we can to help and provide support to the families and friends of the victims, but this is a tragedy that is touching everyone in the university," Miami president Jim Garland said in a statement.
About a dozen people — some college-age, most bearing yellow, purple, pink and white flowers — stopped in front of the house Sunday evening. They propped the flowers up against a telephone pole, inches below a strip of yellow police tape. The mourners gathered in a circle, some crying, bowed their heads and prayed.
The last major house fire involving Miami students was on Nov. 10, 2000, at the Sigma Chi house in which 50 residents were evacuated and one had to be hospitalized. Oxford is a college town of 22,000 people about 30 miles northwest of Cincinnati.
In a fire two years ago, three Ohio University and two Ohio State students died in a three-story brick house near the Ohio State campus in Columbus after a 21st birthday party. Authorities labeled that fire as arson. Charges against one person were dropped because of a lack of evidence.
Other recent fatal university fires include a blaze at the University of Mississippi (search) that killed three students last year, and a fire at Seton Hall (search) dormitory in New Jersey that killed three students in 2000.
Tyler Rand, 19, a Miami student from Columbus, said he played on the school's club rugby team with some of the residents of the gutted house. "I care a lot for these guys and it's just unfortunate," he said.
"It's heartbreaking to think a few weeks ago I was walking through the door for a social with the team from Michigan coming down here, and now it's torched," he said.
Ross Neuhauser, 20, a Miami student from Louisville, Ky., said the deaths made him feel foolish for his worries. "I was all stressed out about a test and a paper," he said.