The blaze began about 4 a.m. on the third floor of the Comfort Inn in Greenville. With freezing rain falling, firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, though authorities at the scene Sunday were still trying to determine how the fire began.
All the victims appeared to have been sleeping when the fire started and the smoke began to spread, Greenville County Coroner Parks Evans said.
A young boy was found dead close to the body of a woman, and two women were found in the hall on the third floor, Evans said. Two more people — a man and a woman — were found dead in separate rooms on the third floor, he said.
"If there had been sprinkler systems in the hallways, probably the fatalities and injuries would not have been near what they were," said Wade Hampton Fire Chief Gary Downey.
The building had standpipes, hoses on the walls in the hallways and stairwells, but none had been activated, and no fire extinguishers were used before emergency crews arrived, Downey said.
Some people on upper floors of the motel tried to lower themselves to the ground using bed sheets to escape the fire, and others jumped from the windows, he said.
Broken glass littered the motel yard Sunday. The motel's windows were broken out along the third and fourth floors, and blood was splattered on the portico at the entrance to the inn.
Evans said at least a dozen people were injured trying to escape the fire. Seven were transported to a burn center in Augusta, Ga., according to Greenville Memorial Hospital Spokeswoman Erika Spenille.
"The people that came out of their rooms, they didn't have much of a chance," Downey said. "They get the smoke filled in there, and they panic, and panic takes over for them."
Greenville County Sheriff's Sgt. Shea Smith said the emergency call came in about 4:30 a.m. Deputies arrived before firefighters and ran into the building to begin evacuating people, but they couldn't reach the third floor because of the smoke.
Greenville, the home of Bob Jones University, is about 105 miles northwest of Columbia. The city is scheduled to host a debate among the Democratic presidential candidates this week.