PORTLAND, Maine – Fire swept through a two-apartment building near the University of Southern Maine's commuter campus on Saturday morning, killing five people and critically injuring one, authorities said. It was unclear if any of the victims were students.
The fire, which gutted the two-story structure, was reported at 7:17 a.m. following a Halloween party the night before.
"We do not know whether the victims are residents of the home or guests," said state fire marshals' spokesman Steve McCausland.
Information about the victims was confusing. McCausland at first said the victims were students but later said they weren't. Saturday afternoon, Portland Fire Chief Jerry LaMoria said they don't know if any were students. Initial reports also said several people were unaccounted for but by later in the day, authorities were unsure how many, if any, were still missing.
One person suffered severe burns and jumped from a second-story window. He was reported in critical condition in the burn unit of a Boston hospital, McCausland said. A second person was treated and released from a hospital; seven people escaped from the burning building.
Two bodies were found on the second floor and two others on the third floor.
From the outside, one side of the building looked severely damaged by flames.
Nathan Long, who said he woke up to the smell of smoke when his alarm clock went off, told the Portland Press Herald that he didn't hear any fire alarms going off. He yelled "fire!" and ran to the back of the house, where another person was opening a window. They both jumped onto a porch roof, then to the ground, where he saw the badly burned body of another person.
"I feel pretty lucky. I'm kind of numb," Long told the newspaper. He said he lived with four other people and that he didn't know the fate of his roommates beyond the one with whom he escaped.
Damien Croxford of South Portland was driving through the area on his way to work when he saw the house in flames and the entire neighborhood cloaked in smoke. He said he found a badly burned person lying in the street breathing and conscious after he called 911. Croxford said he spoke with people who had evacuated the home who said they were unsure how many people were inside during the fire.
Croxford said the heat from the fire was so intense that he had to back away from the scene.
"It's going to stay with me for a long time," he said. "A prayer for the families."
The neighborhood is a dense, residential area of single and multi-family homes. A resident, Mike Krigman, said the neighborhood is a mix of permanent residents and USM students.
"It's just awful when you have that many people involved and hurt," Krigman said.
Sam Hill, the editor of the university's paper, said anxious students spent the day trying to get information about what happened.
"Everyone is just trying to find out if their friends are hurt," he said.
The university set up a place where students could gather, exchange information and support each other.
"It's a tragic situation," said university spokesman Chris Quint said. "Our hearts and thoughts go out to the families of those injured in this tragedy."
The Press Herald reported the house was built in 1920 and is owned by Gregory Nisbet. A phone number listed in his name was out of service Saturday.