Beach House Fire Survivor's Frantic Escape

The rear area of a beach house that burned in Ocean Isle, N.C., is shown Monday, Oct. 29, 2007. An early morning fire Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007 ravaged the house occupied by more than a dozen college students on Sunday, killing seven and sending several more to a hospital. AP

One of the six survivors of a deadly beach house fire in North Carolina leaped to safety by jumping from a window and into a canal. Seven other students vacationing at the house were killed in the blaze early Sunday morning.

"I woke up for some reason," a shaken Tripp Wylie told CBS' The Early Show. "Everything, you know, happened so fast."

Wylie, a University of South Carolina student, said he knew he had to get out. "Thick black smoke started coming in the room, so I closed the door back and went to the window and opened the blinds and just kind of kicked in the screen and looked outside," Wylie said.

When asked if there was any opportunity to help other people in the house, Wylie says, "If there was, I don't even want to know about it. I don't want to second-guess myself. No one would want to think that there was something you could do and then not been doing."

Wylie was the only person on the top floor who survived, jumping out of a window and into the canal, said Ocean Isle Beach fire Chief Robert Yoho.

Among the seven students killed were an aspiring attorney, a high school homecoming queen, fraternity men and sorority women. They were ardent University of South Carolina football fans, out for a good time at a beach house.

More than 1,000 people attended a ceremony to remember the students who died in that weekend fire at a North Carolina beach house, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

"It's an awful loss for someone that had a pretty good future in front of her," Terry Walden said of his daughter, Allison, from his Ohio home. "It sounded like they were having a good time. Unfortunately, the fire didn't show any mercy."

Six of those killed attended the University of South Carolina. A seventh went to Clemson. Officials have said many were members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority - and some had gone to high school together in Greenville.
"There are no words to describe what we've been going through," Chip Auman - whose family owns the Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., vacation house - said while visiting his hospitalized daughter. "We are living a nightmare."

Debbie Smith, mayor of the resort community, said Monday that investigators believe the fire was likely accidental and started in the rear of the house, either on or near a deck facing a canal. That side of the home appeared to be the most heavily damaged. Most of the victims were found in the home's five bedrooms.

Investigators quizzed dozens of college students who filled several homes near the site of the disaster.

Rebecca Wood, the president of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity at the University of North Carolina, said police wanted to know if the college students were using a grill or small outdoor fireplace. She told investigators all the grilling was done far from the house.

Police in the beachfront community, which has only about 500 full-time residents, are working with the State Bureau of Investigation and federal officials. Autopsies will take place at the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill.

"It may be a few days," spokeswoman Sharon Artis said. "We have not identified any of them yet."

Condolences have been flooding into the Columbia school of 27,000 students, and officials urged them to support each other.

"Please reach out to one another, don't let others suffer in silence," school president Andrew Sorensen told a nighttime gathering of about 1,000 students.

About 90 miles from Columbia in Simpsonville, more than 100 people gathered at an elementary school to pray for the victims.

University officials said names of those who died may not be released until Wednesday, but some relatives and friends of the victims talked Monday about their losses.

Anna Lee Rhea said her older brother, William, was among the dead - a devastating blow to their brother Andrew, who made it out of the house alive.

"Everybody loved him. Everybody really misses him," she said in a brief telephone interview from the family's home in Florence. "You couldn't help but love him."

Anna Lee Rhea said her brother was a huge fan of South Carolina's Gamecocks. The brother of another victim, Justin Anderson, said the same thing about him.

Amanda Palacio, who went to high school with South Carolina freshman Lauren Mahon in Simpsonville, described her best friend as someone who talked fast and was always on the go. "She was a great girl. She still is," Palacio said.

Mahon and Palacio were born just three days apart and Palacio said they were looking forward to celebrating their 19th birthday party together in the spring.

"She was always on the go with something new, saying, 'Let's do this, OK, let's do this,"' Palacio said. "Very spontaneous. Just laid-back. Not a care in the world. Just had it all together."

Mahon had plans to work in real estate law one day, Palacio said.

Cassidy Pendley, 19, was a freshman at the University of South Carolina who played soccer and was a cheerleader at Fort Dorchester High School near Charleston, her boyfriend told WCSC-TV on Monday.

Reid McCollum, quarterback for the rival Summerville high school, met Pendley two years ago when she was junior homecoming queen.

"A lot of people tried to put that in between us but we knew that we both loved each other. We just clicked and just enjoyed spending time with each other," said McCollum, who planned to follow her to the school.

"For them to open up their house to us was just so nice," Wood said. "We gave them hugs and said we would Facebook later. That's the great thing about the online stuff now, friendships could grow without seeing each other. We got along really well."

Wood left around 1:30 a.m., but Alexander said the lights were still on at the doomed beach house as late as 2:30 a.m. He awoke to the sound of sirens a few minutes after 7 a.m.

"Flames were halfway across the channel," Alexander said. "The fire was roaring and cracking. You could already see inside the house."
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