Seven college students went to take advantage of the year's last good beach weather at a vacation house but fell victims to deadly fire.
The home erupted into a storm of fire and smoke Sunday morning in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina. Six of the seven students killed attended the University of South Carolina; the other attended Clemson University. Six other South Carolina students in the house survived.
Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith said investigators told her the fire was likely accidental and started in the rear of the house, either on or near a deck facing a canal.
The names of the victims have not been released.
The students had gathered at the home for the weekend to enjoy the fleeting beach weather. All that was left of the home Monday was a charred shell, and a burned-out car sat in the driveway, cordoned off with police tape.
The fire struck sometime before 7 a.m. Sunday and burned completely through the first and second floors, leaving only part of the frame standing. The waterfront home was built on stilts, forcing firefighters to climb a ladder onto the house's deck to reach the first living floor.
One witness described seeing three students sitting on the ground screaming as the home burned, and another jumping from a window into a waterway. The heat was so intense the front door was too hot to open, preventing rescue attempts.
The burned home sits on one of a series of peninsulas, all tightly packed with homes, that are about two blocks from the beach and connect by canals. Several houses near the one that burned were filled with college students.
Officials said the group was staying at a house owned by the parents of one of the students.
The victims' bodies were taken to the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Smith said none had been identified.
Ocean Isle Beach is at the southern end of North Carolina's Atlantic Coast, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Myrtle Beach, which is home to several thousand rental and vacation homes and condos.