CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — An early morning fraternity house fire killed five people Sunday, bringing tragedy to the University of North Carolina campus just hours before annual Mother’s Day graduation ceremonies.
The cause of the blaze that gutted the interior of the Phi Gamma Delta house was not expected to be known for three or four days, said Fire Department spokeswoman Jan Cousins.
The identities of the dead were not released.
Ben Eubanks, 21, a junior and former president of the fraternity, was hospitalized in serious condition. Adam Jones, a 21-year-old junior and a member of the fraternity, was in fair condition; and Anne Glenn, 21, not enrolled in the university, was listed in critical condition.
Hospital officials would not disclose the nature of their injuries.
After the fire was doused, a search of the charred ruins for any additional victims went slowly because of extensive damage and fears part of the three-story brick building might collapse.
By early evening, crews were working to shore up the first and second floors of the 80-year-old building, which had collapsed into the basement. Fire Chief Dan Jones expected the search to continue through part of the night.
The building did not have a sprinkler system, but one of the injured said he was awakened by a fire alarm. Jones would not say when the house was last inspected for fire safety.
At graduation ceremonies, chancellor Michael Hooker briefly mentioned the fire, offering prayers for those who were injured. He did not mention the deaths. Most of the 30,000 in attendance were unaware how bad the fire was.
Tim Reid, president of neighboring Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity, saw a blaze out of control when he woke up.
“We went to the third floor window and looked out and flames were leaping over the top of the building,” said Reid, 22, of Southern Pines. “We could see the smoke coming out and the flames coming out of the window. I knew it had to be bad. I was just hoping nobody was inside.”
A party at the Phi Gamma Delta house Saturday night was still going strong when he went to bed about 1 a.m. Sunday, Reid said.
The Phi Gamma Delta chapter was placed on indefinite suspension in November by its national office after chapter members sent prospective recruits a letter advertising strippers and saying their parties were so loaded with drunken sorority women that opportunities for sex were assured.
Hooker went to the fire scene following graduation ceremonies.
“We are profoundly saddened by the tragic fire this morning,” Hooker said. “This is a loss being felt deeply by the entire community.”
Firefighters found the building in flames when they reached the scene after it was reported shortly after 6 a.m., Jones said. The cause of the blaze wasn’t immediately known.
A university counseling center was open to friends and family of fire victims, the school said.