OCEAN ISLE BEACH -- The fire that claimed the lives of seven young people in Ocean Isle Beach started Sunday morning in a house off Scotland Street. Neighbor George Smith said, "The whole sky was lit up like an early sunrise." It only took four minutes for fire crews to respond to the 911 call about a fire at a house on Scotland Street in Ocean Isle Beach, but in those four minutes, the house had already become fully engulfed. "From the ground up to about 20 feet above the house," Smith said. "Everything. I've never seen a fire so quick, that fast." Witness Nell Blanton said, "I could hear a guy hollering help. At fist I just thought it was somebody cutting up. We came out this door and saw black smoke. In a few minutes the fire was up over the house. I still get chills hearing the guy calling for help." The six people able to escape the fire were treated and released from Brunswick Community Hospital, including one man who survived by jumping out of a window and into a nearby canal. The other seven people in the house when the fire started were unable to get out in time and died. Investigators say six of the seven victims were University of South Carolina students. The seventh was a Clemson University student. "We suffered an emotional tragedy this morning in Ocean Isle Beach," Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith said. Officials say smoke alarms inside the house were working and going off when fire crews arrived on scene. "North Carolina code does not require sprinkler systems in most building structures," Mayor Smith said. The cause of the fire has not been determined. The State Bureau of Investigations, along with Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms is looking into what started the fire but there is no indication it was intentionally set. No other homes were damaged. Investigators will not release the names of the victims until all of the family members have been notified.
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