Colleges mourn beach house fire victims



Grief counselors will be available Monday on the University of South Carolina campus, after six USC students were killed in a weekend fire in a beach house in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. A seventh victim attended Clemson University.

Firefighters never had a chance to save most of the college kids inside, who had just gone to bed after a late-night party, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

"I could hear a guy hollering, 'help!!'" said neighbor Nell Blanton.

Six other South Carolina students in the house survived, including one who jumped from the house into a waterway. The waterfront home was built on stilts.

"My heart goes out to everyone involved," South Carolina student Lindsey Riddick, 19, said Sunday evening. "I just can't fathom that at all."

Dennis Pruitt, the school's dean of students, said many of the students were friends from the Delta Delta Delta sorority and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. The father of one survivor said several had gone to high school together in Greenville.

Officials said the students were staying at a house owned by the parents of one of the students.

"These were college kids partying until 4:30 in the morning. Two hours later, this house was in flames," reports Strassmann. The fire was discovered by a newspaper deliveryman, who called 911.

The fire 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.

USC president Andrew SorensenOne witness described seeing three students sitting on the ground screaming as the home burned. The six survivors were hospitalized and released, Mayor Debbie Smith said.

She has been meeting with the families of the victims.

"I think they're coping the best they can," she said.

It could be several days before investigators know what caused the fire, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Krasula, although it's not considered suspicious.

As news of the fire spread around the South Carolina campus on Sunday, so did rumors of the victims. Officials said identifications might not be made publicly until Wednesday, but that grief counselors would be available for the 27,000 students here when classes resume Monday.

"These are young people in the prime of their life," school president Andrew Sorensen said at a news conference. "They had so much to look forward to, and it's just profoundly tragic."

"When any one member of our family is lost, we are all diminished," he said, adding his thoughts also went out to the Clemson community.

South Carolina freshman J.P. Shorter said he and was talking with friends about the fire and that there were all kinds of rumors about what happened. "Some people I know are in Delta Delta Delta," said Shorter, 18, of Charleston. "I feel bad."

Several houses near the one that burned were filled with college students. Neighbor Jeff Newsome said the students were going back and forth between the houses all weekend long.

"We didn't have any big complaints," Newsome said. "The lights were on all night. They were having a good time."

Some of the people in the house had been friends since high school, said Rick Wylie of Greenville, who said his son Tripp jumped from the burning home.

"He's in shock," Wylie said. "It's just an incomprehensible thing for these parents."

The victims' bodies were to be taken to the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill, N.C. Authorities from the State Bureau of Investigation and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were leading the investigation, said Randy Thompson, Brunswick County's emergency services director.

Ocean Isle Beach is at the southern end of North Carolina's Atlantic Coast, about 30 miles north of Myrtle Beach. Only about 500 people live there year-round, but the town is home to several thousand rental and vacation homes and condos.

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The Associated Press and CBS News contributed to this report.