Smoking Said Cause of Fatal Miami University, Ohio Fire

OXFORD, Ohio (AP) -- A fire that killed three Miami University students in an off-campus house began when smoking materials ignited a couch, authorities said Friday.

''This was entirely an accident,'' Oxford Fire Chief Len Endress said of the blaze that erupted about 4:30 a.m. Sunday in the first-floor living room.

Endress declined to give further details on the cause, such as whether someone fell asleep on the couch while smoking or left a lit cigarette there.

Julia Turnbull, 21, of Milford, and Kathryn Welling, 21, of Bronxville, N.Y., were guests at the house and died of carbon monoxide and smoke inhalation in beds on the second floor, authorities said.

Stephen Smith, 22, of Bethesda, Md., died from inhaling superheated air as he tried to escape the house, the coroner said. Eight other people escaped.

The three victims were highly intoxicated, with blood-alcohol levels more than double Ohio's legal limit for driving, Butler County Coroner Richard Burkhardt said. This may have affected their reaction time to the smoke detectors or someone trying to wake them, Endress said.

The students had gone to a party on Saturday night before returning to the house in this college town about 30 miles northwest of Cincinnati and going to sleep.