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1 dead in fraternity house fire

Fire broke out in a fraternity house early Friday, killing one student and critically injuring three others, officials said.
Firemen Noah Jacobson, right, and Guy Jones pause next to a fire truck, Friday after battling the fatal fire in Lincoln, Neb.Bill Wolf / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Fire broke out in a fraternity house early Friday, killing one student and critically injuring three others, officials said.

The blaze started around 4 a.m. in a second-story room at the Phi Kappa Tau house at Nebraska Wesleyan University, said Lincoln Fire Chief Dan Wright. At least 39 people were inside.

The fire was under investigation.

Three students who had been in the house said they couldn't recall hearing an alarm, but Wright said somebody had pulled it.

The smoke alarms worked, university spokeswoman Sara Olson said.

The three, who declined to give their names citing an agreement among the fraternity brothers, described a frantic scene inside the house. At least two students jumped out windows and others put shirts over their mouths as they tried to get everyone out, they said.

"There was a lot of damage done," Olson said. "It'll be a while before anyone can move back in."

Olson said all four students were members of Phi Kappa Tau. She identified two of the hospitalized students as David Spittler, 20, of Elkhorn and Travis Mann, 22, of Beatrice.

Both suffered smoke inhalation and were in critical condition, said Jan Yaussi, St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center spokeswoman.

The third student in critical condition was Aaron McGuire, 20, of Sioux Falls, S.D., who also inhaled smoke, Yaussi said.

The student who died was Ryan Stewart, 19, of Ord, she said.

The fraternity released a statement Friday evening, expressing "sympathy to the family of Ryan Stewart and the families of the other men that are hospitalized in this tragedy."

In another statement, the university said: "We are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic death of one of our students. Our thoughts and prayers are also with three other students who are currently being treated at a local hospital."

Friday morning, crying students hugged one another outside the red brick house, where black burn marks spread up from a second-floor window. The house did not have a sprinkler system, Wright said.

Officials plan to move the Phi Kappa Tau survivors in a vacant section of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority house on campus until their fraternity house is inhabitable again, Olson said.

Nebraska Wesleyan, a Methodist Church-affiliated liberal arts college, has about 1,800 students.