Police Probe Cause of Frat House Fire That Killed 1, Injured 3 Others

Fire investigators worked through the night but still had not determined early Saturday what started a blaze at a fraternity house that killed one student and left three others critically injured.

The Friday fire at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house at Nebraska Wesleyan University killed 19-year-old Ryan Stewart of Ord, Neb., officials said. Fraternity members said two people jumped out of windows and others put shirts over their mouths in the rush to escape. At least 39 people were inside, authorities said.

There were unconfirmed reports from neighbors about fireworks, but Patrick Borer, deputy chief of Lincoln Fire and Rescue, said he had no information. He said investigators were expected to continue working Saturday.

"The investigation went well into the night and wasn't completed yet," said Borer.

Three students — David Spittler, 20, of Elkhorn, Travis Mann, 22, of Beatrice, and Aaron McGuire, 20 of Sioux Falls, S.D., were sent to St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center. They remained in critical condition, spokeswoman Jan Yaussi said.

The fraternity house did not have a sprinkler system, which interim Lincoln Fire Chief Dan Wright said could have reduced the severity of the fire.

Nebraska and Lincoln fire codes require all new campus dormitories and fraternity and sorority houses to include sprinkler systems, said Lincoln Fire Inspector Rick Campos. But sprinklers don't have to be installed in older buildings unless they are being remodeled, Campos said.

The Phi Kappa Tau house was built in 1928 and is on the National Historic Register.

Three students who had been in the house said they couldn't recall hearing an alarm, but Lincoln Fire Chief Dan Wright has said somebody pulled it.

The smoke alarms worked, university spokeswoman Sara Olson said.

Officials plan to move the Phi Kappa Tau members into a vacant section of a sorority house on campus until the fraternity house is habitable, a university spokeswoman said.

Nebraska Wesleyan, a Methodist Church-affiliated liberal arts college, has about 1,800 students.