When Ed Conkle woke to a loud crash and soot flowing from beneath the door of his dorm room, he figured someone was playing a trick on him. Then he saw the flames.
Conkle escaped unharmed, but one student died and seven others were injured in the fire early Tuesday at Greenville College in this southwestern Illinois town.
“I watched the door light on fire, then the computer, then the stereo. That’s when I started hauling rear,” said the 19-year-old Conkle, peering through glasses smudged with soot.
The fire apparently began in a lounge area adjacent to Conkle’s room. Investigators searched the building for clues to the cause.
The fire destroyed half of the 29-year-old building.
The college identified the student killed as Joel Pierce, 22, of Warren, N.H. Firefighters found his body just outside his room in the most heavily damaged part of the building.
Pierce, a junior, was scheduled to be married Dec. 20.
Many students who lived in the building said they heard smoke detectors going off but credited 23-year-old Lee Brinckley of Moline, Ill., with saving their lives.
Brinckley, a senior, said he was still awake shortly after 5 a.m. when he realized the building was on fire. He ran through the building’s smoky hallway, pounding on doors and urging his neighbors to flee.
But heavy smoke and flames blocked his access to the west side of the building where Pierce lived.