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Student recounts how she escaped blaze that killed 7

Victims of N.C. inferno identified

Sorority members consoled each other yesterday at a memorial in Columbia, S.C. Six students from the University of South Carolina and one from Clemson University were killed in the fire. Sorority members consoled each other yesterday at a memorial in Columbia, S.C. Six students from the University of South Carolina and one from Clemson University were killed in the fire. (Mary Ann Chastain/Associated Press)

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Fallon Sposato awoke to a blaring alarm and smoke seeping into the first-floor bedroom of the beach house where she and 12 friends had been partying just hours earlier. With her lungs and eyes burning, she ran with her boyfriend through the smoke-filled house, assuming her friends were already outside.

"And then nobody else was out yet," the 19-year-old University of South Carolina sophomore recalled during an interview yesterday.

Seven students died in the blaze. Six others made it out of the house in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., and into the arms of neighbors and rescue workers.

"We were all hysterical. They were holding us back, trying to get our friends," said Sposato, a native of Orlando, Fla.

Yesterday, officials at the University of South Carolina and in Ocean Isle Beach officially identified those killed in the fire: Cassidy Fae Pendley, 18; Lauren Astrid Kristiana Mahon, 18; Justin Michael Anderson, 19; Travis Lane Cale, 19; Allison Walden, 19; William Rhea, 18; and Emily Lauren Yelton, 19. Of those who died, six attended the University of South Carolina; Yelton attended Clemson University.

Many of those staying at the house were members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority, and some had attended high school together in Greenville, S.C.

Sposato, a Delta Delta Delta member, said she and Walden, her roommate and sorority sister, joined the weekend getaway after canceling a trip to Ohio. They picked the location closer to home, Sposato said, so the sorority members could be back on campus for initiation activities Sunday afternoon.

The group caravanned up to the resort town after classes Friday, listening to music and swimming in a canal behind the house, she said. On Saturday, they went out to lunch and watched the Georgia-Florida game before grilling food on a patio under the house, which was on stilts, and getting ready to watch South Carolina take on Tennessee.

"We just had a good time," Sposato said. Students were drinking alcohol at the house, but no illegal drugs were present, she said. "We were just hanging out and listening to music."

The group partied into the early morning on the back deck. Sposato said she was the first to go to bed, turning in at 4:30 a.m.

Several hours later, Sposato and her boyfriend, whom she declined to identify, awoke to the alarms, flames, and smoke. Called by neighbors who saw the fire, emergency personnel were pulling up when she got out of the house, Sposato said. Several hours later, Sposato would learn her roommate was among the dead.

Another student who made it out of the burning house told ABC's "Good Morning America" yesterday that he decided to jump into the canal behind the house to escape his smoke-filled upper-floor room. "You knew you had to jump at some point; that was the only option," Tripp Wylie said on the show.

Debbie Smith, mayor of the resort community, has said investigators believe the fire was probably accidental and started in the rear of the house, either on or near a deck facing the canal. That side of the home appeared to be the most heavily damaged. Most of the victims were found in the home's five bedrooms.

The University of South Carolina football team plan to honor the victims by placing stickers on their helmets Saturday with the phrase "Forever to thee," a line from the school's alma mater.

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