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3 UC Berkeley Students Perish in Blaze at Fraternity House

September 09, 1990|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three UC Berkeley students died in a fire early Saturday that destroyed the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity house three blocks from the university, campus officials said.

The body of Ryan Hamilton, 19, a freshman from Sacramento, was found in his bed about 4 a.m. in a heavily damaged section of the house, university spokesman Tom Debley said.

Bodies of two more students were discovered about 5 p.m. Saturday in a section of the rubble that had to be shored up before firefighters could search for victims. Their names were not immediately released.

Hamilton's parents, who had rushed to the campus from Sacramento after being contacted by university officials, were at the scene when their son's body was discovered, Berkeley Fire Department spokesman Alan Lauborough said.

Cause of the fire had not been determined late Saturday.

Fifteen students escaped from the burning fraternity house. Two of them were injured: one student broke his ankle leaping to safety from a second-story balcony and another suffered burns. Both were treated and released from Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley.

About half of the 34 students who lived at the fraternity house were on the road at athletic contests, Debley said. They included many members of the university polo team and one football team member. Both teams had out-of-town games this weekend, Debley said.

Initially, university officials were optimistic that one fraternity member and his friend from a nearby sorority had not been in the inferno. But as the day passed and the two could not be located, concern grew. Their bodies were found in the late afternoon.

The blaze erupted about 1 a.m. in the house at 2320 Warring St., on fraternity row. Flames were already shooting out of every window and door when firefighters got to the scene at 1:04 a.m., fire spokesman Lauborough said.

A neighbor told firefighters the blaze started in the living room but because of the extent of the damage, fire officials could not confirm that. There was no immediate word on what caused it.

Value of the house, built around 1958, was estimated at $2 million, Lauborough said. Phi Kappa Sigma has had a chapter at the university since 1918.

One apartment in the fraternity house next door was also burned, Lauborough said. University Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien was at the fire scene to console Hamilton's family.

The Red Cross set up operations for survivors, offering food, giving out clothing vouchers and finding lodging for the suddenly homeless students. Other fraternities and sororities volunteered to house some of the students.

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