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The Nation

Students Question Fire Rules

August 29, 2004|From Associated Press

OXFORD, Miss. — Students at the University of Mississippi questioned the school's fire safety procedures as investigators returned to a charred fraternity house Saturday to find the cause of a fire that killed three people.

Twenty students and a house mother escaped the fire at the two-story, brick-and-wood frame Alpha Tau Omega house on Friday.

"We're going to do everything humanly possible to identify what may have happened here," Mark R. Chait, who heads the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives office in New Orleans, said Saturday.

The university enacts fire safety policies at school residences, but not fraternity houses, said Jeff Alford, vice chancellor for university relations. The ATO house had no sprinkler system.

Alford said the house had undergone a routine fire inspection Aug. 17 that found problems including a lack of fire extinguishers in the kitchen area, paint stored in the basement and doors blocked with mattresses. Alford said no citation was issued to the fraternity.

Wynn Smiley, Alpha Tau Omega's national chief executive, said contractors had been scheduled to meet Friday morning to address deficiencies found during the inspection.

Officials said the fire appeared to have started in the dormitory wing in the southeast corner of the ATO house. The victims were found in that wing -- two in the basement and one on the floor above, said Randy Corban, chief of university police.

The university has an enrollment of about 14,000, and more than one-third of the student body belongs to fraternities or sororities.

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