OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. – For the group of college buddies spending a late-season weekend at a friend’s beach house, the deck overlooking a canal was the center of their good times.
It was where they talked, listened to music and danced late into the night. But investigators think the deck just two blocks from the beach may also have been the starting point of a fast-moving fire that killed seven people, including a group of high school friends who went off to college together.
“It sounded like they were having a good time. Unfortunately, the fire didn’t show any mercy,” said Terry Walden, whose 19-year-old daughter, Allison, died in the blaze. “They probably never woke up.”
The fire and smoke – so daunting that firefighters radioed for backup before they arrived – enveloped the home early Sunday, killing six students from the University of South Carolina and one from Clemson University.
Classes went on as scheduled Monday at South Carolina’s Columbia campus, but grief counselors were available for the 27,000 students. Clemson also offered counseling.
About 1,000 people gathered on the USC campus Monday evening to hear words of consolation. “Please reach out to one another; don’t let others suffer in silence,” USC President Andrew Sorensen said.
Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith said Monday that investigators believe the fire was likely accidental and started in the rear of the house, either on or near the deck facing the canal. That side of the residence appeared to be the most heavily damaged.