Fire that Killed Univ. of Maryland Student Burned for Several Minutes Before 911

May 2, 2005
A fire that killed a University of Maryland, College Park, student and injured another burned for several minutes before anyone called 911.

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) -- A fire that killed a University of Maryland, College Park, student and injured another burned for several minutes before anyone called 911, a Prince George's County fire official said.

The blaze went undetected when it began early Saturday on the front porch of the house, the fire official said. When it was discovered, at least one resident of the house tried to put it out before authorities were notified.

Photos by Branchville Volunteer Fire Company

''It probably burned for several minutes before anyone noticed the fire and then before 911 was notified,'' said Mark E. Brady, spokesman for the Prince George's Fire/EMS Department. Brady said it was impossible to speculate whether an earlier call would have saved a life.

''We want every minute possible for us to do our job,'' he said. ''But to say 'x' amount of time would have made a difference, it's hard to say.''

Firefighters found the body of Michael A. Scrocca, 22, a finance major from Somerville, N.J., in a second-floor bedroom toward the back of the home.

Housemate Stephen Aarons, 21, who jumped from a second-story window, was in stable condition Sunday at a hospital. He suffered what appeared to be burns, fractures and smoke inhalation.

Friends of Scrocca invited people join them between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. in the West Chapel on the College Park campus to light a candle and pray for him, said George Cathcart, a university spokesman.

The fire was first reported at 4:20 a.m. Saturday by a woman who had been driving by and used her cell phone. The call was processed and dispatched within 40 seconds, and the first units arrived within four minutes, Brady said.

''It was certainly evident upon our arrival that the fire had a headway on us,'' said Brady, who added that a fire can double in size with each passing minute. ''It had a lot of lead time.''

A next-door neighbor said he had come home about 4 a.m. and noticed a small fire on the porch. But someone told him that authorities had already been called. Brady said that people involved in emergencies often do not notify authorities because they believe someone else has done so, which may not be the case. Whether a similar situation occurred in Saturday's fire, Brady said: ''We don't know, but it is a possibility.''

Brady said at least one resident attempted to extinguish the flames with cups of water before the woman driving by called 911.

Seven male students lived in the privately owned house. They had hosted a party Friday night that lasted until early Saturday, Brady said. Investigators are looking into what, if any, role alcohol might have played in the cause of the fire or the delay in calling 911.

The fire caused an estimated $300,000 in damage to the 2

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