PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Fire swept through a two-apartment building housing students from the University of Southern Maine on Saturday morning, killing four people and critically injuring one, authorities said. They were still trying to account for several people who had been at a Halloween party at the building the night before.
The fire, which gutted the two-story structure, was reported at 7:17 a.m. It was not known if those unaccounted for had stayed the night or left before the fire erupted.
“We do not know whether the victims are residents of the home or guests,” said state fire marshals’ spokesman Steve McCausland. McCausland said none of the victims was a student.
One person was reported in critical condition in the burn unit of a Boston hospital. McCausland said he suffered severe burns and jumped from a second-story window. Two bodies were found on the second floor and two others on the third floor, McCausland said.
From the outside, one side of the building looked severely damaged by flames.
Nathan Long, who said he woke up to the smell of smoke when his alarm clock went off, told the Portland Press Herald that he didn’t hear any fire alarms going off. He yelled “fire!” and ran to the back of the house, where another person was opening a window. They both jumped onto a porch roof, then to the ground, where he saw the badly burned body of another person.
“I feel pretty lucky. I’m kind of numb,” Long told the newspaper. He said he lived with four other people and that he didn’t know the fate of his roommates beyond the one with whom he escaped.
Damien Croxford of South Portland was driving through the area on his way to work when he saw the house in flames and the entire neighborhood cloaked in smoke. He said he found a badly burned person lying in the street breathing and conscious after he called 911. Croxford said he spoke with people who had evacuated the home who said they were unsure how many people were inside during the fire.
Croxford said the heat from the fire was so intense that he had to back away from the scene.
“It’s going to stay with me for a long time,” he said. “A prayer for the families.”
The neighborhood is a dense, residential area of single and multi-family homes. A resident, Mike Krigman, said the neighborhood is a mix of permanent residents and USM students.
“It’s just awful when you have that many people involved and hurt,” Krigman said.
Chris Quint, a spokesman for the university, said the victims’ identities were unclear. “At this time, we do not have any information whether any of the victims are USM students,” he said in an email Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a tragic situation,” Quint said. “Our hearts and thoughts go out to the families of those injured in this tragedy. We’re still getting information in.”
The Press Herald reported the house was built in 1920 and is owned by Gregory Nisbet. A phone number listed in his name was out of service Saturday.
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