OCEAN ISLE BEACH — Firefighters responding to the early-morning blaze that took the lives of seven South Carolina college students and injured six others could do little to stop it, the town's fire chief said Tuesday.
"They made it inside the house, up the first flight of steps to the first floor, and they said it was just so intense, they knew there was nothing they could do," Robert Yoho said. "There was fire everywhere – and the heat – they had to back out."
By the time firefighters arrived at the vacation house at 1 Scotland St., flames had spread to every corner of the house, Yoho said.
He believes the fire might have been burning as long as 20 minutes before anyone inside had realized it.
Smoke detectors woke the survivors – and survival, he said, depended largely on what floor on which they were sleeping.
"All the survivors came from the first floor, with the exception of one, and that is the one that jumped from the third-story window," Yoho said.
A lot of the damage to the home is located on the upper floors, the same area investigators have been focusing on to find an official cause to the fire. They were at the scene again Tuesday taking photos and looking for evidence.
An initial report on the fire could be released as early as Friday, but an official cause could be weeks away.
"To have this happen, it is hard," said Lorie Orzel, a Ocean Isle Beach resident and University of South Carolina alumnus.
Late Tuesday afternoon, authorities officially identified those killed in the fire: Cassidy Fae Pendley, 18; Lauren Astrid Kristiana Mahon, 18; Justin Michael Anderson, 19; Travis Lane Cale, 19; Allison Walden, 18; William Rhea, 18 – all students at the University of South Carolina. Emily Lauren Yelton, 18, was a student at Clemson.
"These people are trying to get out, and some did and some didn't. You cry. It touches you. You feel horrible," Orzel added.
Firefighters were also having a difficult time dealing with the fire, Yoho said, adding that he was concerned about some of the younger firefighters involved in recovering the victims.
"If there was anyone left in the house, I knew, at that point, there was most likely nothing we could do to help them, unfortunately," Yoho said.