Robert Jordan  /  AP
Firefighters fight a fire at the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity House on the University of Mississippi campus, Aug. 27.
updated 8/27/2004 3:30:26 PM ET 2004-08-27T19:30:26

A fire swept through a fraternity house at the University of Mississippi early Friday, killing three members, school officials said.

Twenty other students and a house mother escaped the blaze at the two-story, brick- and wood-frame Alpha Tau Omega house, school spokesman Mitchell Diggs said. There were no reports of injuries.

The fire broke out before dawn, and firefighters needed about two hours to bring it under control, chapter adviser Al Bell said. Hours later, smoke billowed out of where the roof had been, and much of the upper floor was in ruins.

A fraternity member who lives off-campus and was not at the house when the fire occurred said fellow members told him they woke up coughing and found smoke “everywhere.”

“They said they just ran out as fast as they could, to get out of that building as fast as possible,” said Sean Weidlein, of Middleburg, Va.

Fred Cummings, 19, a member of the Ole Miss cross country team who was out running at 6 a.m., said the smoke was so thick “it would choke you up” a mile away.

“When we saw it, the flames were about two stories above the building,” he said.

The victims’ names were not immediately released so relatives could be notified. The university planned a news conference later Friday and some activities were canceled for the day. Weidlein, 19, said the three who died were in his pledge class and were from Atlanta, Virginia and Mississippi. He declined to name them.

Among the survivors, “things are pretty rough right now,” Weidlein said.

Jeff Alford, assistant vice chancellor of student relations, said authorities believed the fire started in the living area.

At least three fire trucks remained outside the house in the early afternoon, and students stood outside yellow police tape as authorities moved through the charred structure.

Alford said the fraternity house had undergone a routine fire inspection Aug. 17, before students moved in for the fall semester. Most classes began Monday.

Problems found included a lack of fire extinguishers in the kitchen area, paint stored in the basement and doors blocked with mattresses.

Alford did not know of any citation issued to the fraternity.

The chapter has about 100 members, Bell said. Temporary housing was being found for displaced students, he said.

“The entire student body is pretty upset about this. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Alpha Tau Omega chapter,” Gordon Fellows, Associate Student Body president at Ole Miss, said.

Nearby fraternity houses were evacuated. ATO members were taken to one of them.

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