A strong fire broke out in a beach house packed with college students. The fire killed seven of them and destroyed the house almost entirely.
Six survivors were hospitalized and released, including one who jumped from the burning home and into a waterway, Mayor Debbie Smith said. The cause was being investigated.
"There were three kids sitting on the ground screaming," said newspaper deliverer Tim Burns, who called emergency services after seeing a column of smoke rising from the house. "There was one guy hanging out the window, and he jumped in the canal. I know he got out because he was yelling for a girl to follow him."
Burns said he did not know whether that girl was able to escape.
Officials at the University of South Carolina said six of the students who died were from the school in Columbia; the seventh attended Clemson University. The six who survived were also from USC. The private home was being used by the owner's daughter and a group of her friends, Smith said.
The fire struck sometime before 7 a.m. and burned completely through the first and second floors, leaving only part of the frame standing. The waterfront home - named "Changing Channels" - was built on stilts, forcing firefighters to climb a ladder onto the house's deck to reach the first living floor. Smith said the house was a total loss.
Winds blowing flames over the water, and not toward any of the other residences on the tightly packed row of vacation homes, kept the fire from spreading.
The victims; bodies were to be taken to the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill. Authorities from the State Bureau of Investigation and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are leading the investigation, said Randy Thompson, Brunswick County's emergency services director.
Ocean Isle Beach is at the southern end of North Carolina's Atlantic Coast, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on the U.S. eastern coast. Only about 500 people live there year-round, but the town is home to several thousand rental and vacation homes and condos.