House fire kills three students

Police do not know why the victims were unable to escape the house safely.

;MENOMONIE, Wis. (AP) – A smoky house fire near a University of Wisconsin campus killed three students who never made it out of the rooms where they were sleeping early Saturday, even though neighbors said they heard alarms.

Rescuers found two women and a man on the floors of three second-floor bedrooms near the University of Wisconsin-Stout. All three were pronounced dead at a hospital, authorities said.

The smoke detectors were working, and neighbors called police when they heard the alarms, said Menomonie Police Chief Dennis Beety. Police don’t know why the three victims were unable to make it out, and it was unclear whether alcohol was a factor.

“There was a bottle of alcohol and the top was off of it,” Beety said, adding that that didn’t necessarily mean the students were drinking at the house.

The cause of the fire was still being investigated.

The university identified the victims as April C. Englund, 21, of West St. Paul, Minn.; Amanda Jean Rief, 20, of Chaska, Minn.; and Scott A. Hams, 23, of Hayward. All three appeared to have died of smoke inhalation, said Menomonie police Lt. Wendy Stelter. There were no obvious signs of foul play.

“It’s a tragedy that no campus prepares for,” Chancellor Charles Sorensen said. “We’ll grieve in this together.”

Emergency workers arrived shortly after a call made about 3:30 a.m. to find smoke coming from the basement, first floor and second floor of the duplex, university spokesman Doug Mell said.

Beety, the police chief, said an officer entered the building but couldn’t get to the second floor because of the heavy smoke.

Firefighters used thermal imaging to find the victims, said Fire Chief Jack Baus.

Englund was the only victim who lived in the front unit of the white house, in a row of well-kept properties blocks away from campus. Rief and Hams were sleeping over because Englund’s roommates had left town, Englund’s father and authorities said. All occupants of the back unit were able to escape.

Students and neighbors on Saturday quietly walked over to the police tape that blocked off the street.

“It’s pretty scary,” said Erik Vilstrup, 23, as he smoked a cigarette and gazed at the house, which was missing windows and had a hole in the roof. The smell of smoke and charred wood still lingered.

University counselors were on hand to help students, and the school encouraged students to call their families. Pictures of the students were posted on a wall in a campus building, along with markers and paper where students left notes such as “You will be missed” or “RIP.”