Ohio House Fire Kills 3 College Students

Fire ripped through a two-story, brick house near the Miami University campus.


OXFORD, Ohio (AP) -- Fire ripped through a two-story, brick house near the Miami University campus, killing three students, injuring two others and forcing one person to jump to safety from a second-story window.

School spokesman Richard Little said it was the deadliest fire involving the university since a student died in an off-campus blaze in 1994. ''This is as severe as anything we've ever dealt with,'' he said.

Investigators believe the fire early Sunday was accidental and may have started in a recreation room downstairs. Police said that when they arrived at the house, occupied by 11 people, they saw flames in the first- and second-story windows.

''Nobody understood what was happening until we saw the huge flames coming from the house,'' said Muna Osman, 21, a Miami student who lives next door. ''It was terrible, just terrible. The smoke was thick and white, and it just covered everything.''

Classes were in session Monday, but school president Jim Garland asked faculty to be sensitive to students' needs.

''We are doing everything we can to help and provide support to the families and friends of the victims, but this is a tragedy that is touching everyone in the university,'' Garland said in a statement Sunday.

Two students, Julia Turnbull, 21, of Milford, Ohio, and Kathryn Welling, 21, of Bronxville, N.Y., died of carbon monoxide. The cause of death had not been determined for Stephen Smith, 22, of Bethesda, Md. All three bodies were burned beyond recognition, Butler County Coroner Richard Burkhardt said.

Turnbull and Welling were found in second-floor bedrooms, Fire Chief Len Endress said. Smith was found near the front door.

Two residents were released after treatment at McCullough-Hyde Hospital.

Investigators believe seven residents and four guests were in the house when the fire started and someone awakened by a smoke detector called 911, Endress said.

Fire officials wanted to interview survivors Monday, he said.

All four people on the first floor left the house safely, he said. Three of the seven on the second floor got out through a fire escape and one jumped out a window. He stumbled to a nearby hospital emergency room.

''A guy jumped out of a second-story window and walked straight into the hospital, head down, a nasty cut on his leg,'' said a witness, Alli Davis, 18.

The roof of the two-story, brick house partially collapsed. The house is in a neighborhood of older homes surrounded by large trees a few blocks from campus.

It took firefighters 90 minutes to bring the fire under control. ''It looked like the house had wings of flame, almost,'' said Jesse Gerulis, a Miami sophomore who lives nearby.

About a dozen people stopped in front of the house Sunday evening. They propped flowers up against a utility pole and gathered in a circle, some crying, and bowed their heads in prayer.

Tyler Rand, 19, a Miami student from Columbus, said he played on the school's club rugby team with some of the house's residents.

''I care a lot for these guys, and it's just unfortunate,'' he said.

Oxford is a college town of 22,000 about 30 miles northwest of Cincinnati. The last major house fire involving Miami students was in November 2000, when 50 people were evacuated from the Sigma Chi house and one was hospitalized.

In a fire two years ago, three Ohio University and two Ohio State students died in a three-story house near the Ohio State campus in Columbus after a birthday party. Authorities labeled that fire as arson, but charges against one person were dropped because of a lack of evidence.

Associated Press writer Lisa Cornwell contributed to this report.