Arson or Accident? Cause Sought in Deadly Ohio Fire

Columbus police said Monday that they expect to know whether a fire that killed five college students near Ohio State was arson or an accident.Also See: Five Die in House Fire Near Ohio State

Video: 5 Die In Fire Near OSU Campus
Video: Deadly Fire Stuns Community
Photos: Image Slideshow of Fire

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Columbus police said Monday that they expect to know whether a fire that killed five college students near Ohio State was arson or an accident.

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Police Sgt. Brent Mull said that investigators plan to release the determination within the next few hours, as well as what ignited it.

Flowers and photographs adorn the front steps of the house where the fire occurred Sunday morning.

Authorities said that two of the dead are male Ohio State students who lived in the house and the three others were female Ohio University students visiting from the Athens school.

NewsChannel 4 reported that two of the victims were Ohio State students. Alan Schlessman, 21, of Perkins Township near Sandusky and Kyle Raulin, 21, of West Chester both lived in the house.

Three visiting female students from Ohio University in Athens also died, NewsChannel 4 reported. Two of them were identified as Andrea K. Dennis, 20, of Madeira, and Erin M. DeMarco, 19, of Canton. The third OU student had not been identified by Monday morning.

NewsChannel 4 reported that some 80 people were inside the house, located at 64 East 17th Avenue, for Schlessman's 21st birthday party.

The blaze, which is being called suspicious by investigators, started at about 4 a.m. The three-story house had been converted into apartments where 12 residents leased units. All of the renters were students, NewsChannel 4 reported.

Three people were transported to local hospitals with injuries. Josh Patterson, 20, an Ohio State sophomore from Cincinnati, suffered from minor burns and smoke inhalation. He is in critical condition at The Ohio State University Medical Center. Two females also were treated and released, NewsChannel 4 reported.

Jennifer Lehren, 20, of Centerville, was one of the women pulled from the house by firefighters. She was one of several students from Ohio University who attended the party, police said.

Two firefighters were taken to the hospital with minor injuries. They were treated and released.

The flames also damaged other buildings in the neighborhood.

Katie Hamilton, who lives next door, said that she was only home for about 20 minutes early Sunday when a stranger barged into her home and told her that she needed to get out.

"Some guy that I didn't know who he was just came in our house, screaming, 'You need to get out of your house. It's about to catch on fire,' Hamilton said. "I watched three of my friends get dragged out of the house.'"

"I'm never going to forget this, never," fire victim Matthew Brown said. "It's going to affect everything. It's going to affect my schoolwork. It's going to affect where I move on from here."

Brown, who lived at the house, was home at the time of the fire.

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"It really hasn't hit me yet," Brown said. "I haven't realized that two of my best friends are gone. IIt's like a nightmare that this happened," he said, "especially on my roommate's 21st birthday."

Brown said smoke alarms went off but he did not hear them. He and a friend were asleep on the top floor, where a fire escape leads to his bedroom. He said thanks to the fire escape and an unknown person, he made it out alive.

"The guy was pounding on my door, kicking it and everything" Brown said. "That woke me up. As soon as I heard him kick I was out the door. I have to find that guy because he, honestly, saved my life."

Police are investigating an argument that occurred at the party.

"This fire is among the most deadly and tragic to ever occur in Columbus," Mayor Michael Coleman said. "I want to also extend our sincere thanks to our safety forces, Columbus' firefighters and police officers, who responded to this call and bravely put the lives of others before their own -- saving three young people."

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