Local News

Ocean Isle Fire Chief: Flames Were 'Just So Intense'

Posted October 30, 2007
Updated October 31, 2007

— 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.


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  • doodad Oct 31, 2007

    If the fire began outside on the porch, then chances are it became intense enough that by the time it burned through the walls it was so out of control that much of the house was engulfed when the smoke alarms went off. A hot fire doesn't produce as much smoke as a smoldering fire, and from the video, it was an inferno. The young man who jumped from the top floor said that he heard popping and cracking and then opened the door and smoke filled the room. They were all up late, so chances are they were sleeping hard and did not awake in time to escape.

  • HadEnough Oct 31, 2007

    In all the print everywhere I have read about this I have not seen one mention of smoke alarms. I'm guessing there weren't any or they did not work.

  • give me no quarter Oct 31, 2007

    There was a post on this story earlier which I commented on and WRAL chose not to post mine for whatever reason. I will attempt to post my opinion again. It had been posted that why were the 18yr and 19yr olds not supervived by an adult. I simply stated that when are you an adult? When you can vote? When you can fight for country? When you shave every day? I was trying to say that this was a horrible accident and thats it. Don't place the blame on parenting skills ect.

  • TheWB Oct 31, 2007

    I'm curious, were the smoke detectors in working order(dead batteries), were there enough of them placed in the proper areas. I find it puzzling that if all of the above conditions were met, that not one of the 13 people would have been waken before the fire was too fierce to get the others up and out. I know the one in my kitchen goes off at the first hint of smoke, it goes off before any smoke is even visible. The fire was obviously fast moving but I still have doubts about adequate smoke detector protection.

  • White Eagle Oct 31, 2007

    My son was with the APO fraternity from UNC. He'd left mid afternoon Sat so he wasn't there when the fire started on Sun but this has really upset him. He feels guilty that he wasn't there to help his APO friends even though there was little that could be done. He feels that if he had stayed, one of the kids from his group would have had to leave and they would not have had to hear the horror of what was happening across the canal. What do you say? How do you help?

  • 2spoiledrotties Oct 31, 2007

    My heart really goes out to the parents of those who did not make it out! My son attends the University of SC and I missed a phone call from them on Sunday and then I saw the news. The terror I felt thinking it was my son was unbelieveable. It was a relief to find out he was okay. But for these parents of the kids that did not survive, my prayers and thoughts are with you and your families.

  • Windsway Oct 30, 2007

    This is a parent's worst nightmare. My thoughts and prayers to all concerned.

  • mijakamaj2 Oct 30, 2007

    "What fire alarms? The ones on the emergency vehicles?"

    No, the smoke detectors or fire alarms inside the house. There were working smoke detectors inside the house.

  • Fuquay Resident Oct 30, 2007

    TheWB, there were smoke detectors in the house. The National Electrical Code requires them and witnesses reported hearing them.

  • beachboater Oct 30, 2007

    TheWB - I think they were referring to smoke alarms.

    Thoughts and prayers with the families and the firefighters that had to experience this. Hopefully this will be their only such experience in their career.