Five Die in House Fire Near Ohio State

Video: NBC4 On the Scene

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Five students died in a three-alarm fire early Sunday morning near The Ohio State University campus.

The blaze, which is being called suspicious by investigators, started at about 4 a.m. at 64 East 17th Avenue near Waldeck Street, which is east of campus. The three-story house had been converted into apartments where 12 residents leased units. All of the renters were students, NewsChannel 4's Kyle Anderson reported.

Two of the students who died were Ohio State students. The three others were students at Ohio University in Athens, about 70 miles southeast of Columbus.

The names of the deceased have not been released.

One of the people who lives in the apartment said some of his roommates were having a party Saturday night to celebrate the 21st birthday of another roommate, but he did not know if the fire started during the party.

He said 10 of the 12 students living in the house have been accounted for and are alive.

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."

Investigators believe the fire was intentionally set, Anderson reported. They said there was a party at the apartment complex that about 75 to 100 people attended Saturday night. The party ended about 3:30 a.m., and the fire started at about 4 a.m., Anderson reported.

It was believed that 15 to 20 people were inside the home when the blaze started. All five people who died were trapped on the second floor. Four were in one room, while another was alone in a separate room, Anderson reported.

Columbus police homicide detectives and a number of other detectives have been assigned to the case to find the cause of the fire and who may have started it.

"(The cause of the fire) hasn't been determined yet," Columbus Fire Battallion Chief Mike Fultz said. "We know that the point of origin was the front door."

It took 100 firefighters one hour to put the fire out. The first firefighters to arrive on the scene reportedly did not see or hear working smoke detectors, and but they were later found.

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's Barbra Flannigan 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.

Three students who live in the house next door also lost their home when the fire spread.

Ohio State President Karen Holbrook visited the house and talked with investigators Sunday.

"We are clearly a community in mourning," Holbrook said. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the young people who lost their lives and to those who were injured. We are doing everything in our power to provide support and comfort to those in need."

The university is providing temporary housing for all the students.

The damage estimate to the building and one next door is $250,000.