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Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - Page updated at 01:15 PM

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Wis. House Fire Kills 3 College Students

Associated Press Writer

A smoky house fire near a University of Wisconsin campus killed three students who never made it out of the rooms where they were sleeping early Saturday, even though neighbors said they heard alarms.

Rescuers found two women and a man in three second-floor bedrooms near the University of Wisconsin-Stout. All three were pronounced dead at a hospital, authorities said.

The smoke detectors were working, and neighbors called police when they heard the alarms, said Menomonie Police Chief Dennis Beety. Police don't know why the three victims didn't wake up and leave, and it was unclear whether alcohol was a factor.

"There was a bottle of alcohol and the top was off of it," Beety said. "But that's no indication they were drinking at the time."

The cause of the fire was still being investigated Saturday.

The university identified the victims as April C. Englund, 21, of West St. Paul, Minn.; Amanda Jean Rief, 20, of Chaska, Minn.; and Scott A. Hams, 23, of Hayward. All three appeared to have died of smoke inhalation, said Menomonie police Lt. Wendy Stelter. There were no obvious signs of foul play.

"It's a tragedy that no campus prepares for," Chancellor Charles Sorensen said. "We'll grieve in this together."

Emergency workers arrived shortly after a call made about 3:30 a.m. to find smoke coming from the basement, first floor and second floor of the duplex, university spokesman Doug Mell said.

Beety, the police chief, said an officer entered the building but couldn't get to the second floor because of the heavy smoke.

Firefighters used thermal imaging to find the victims, said Fire Chief Jack Baus.

Englund was the only victim who lived in the front unit of the white house, in a row of well-kept properties blocks away from campus. Rief and Hams were sleeping over because Englund's roommates had left town, Englund's father and authorities said. All occupants of the back unit were able to escape.

Students and neighbors on Saturday quietly walked over to the police tape that blocked off the street.

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"It's pretty scary," said Erik Vilstrup, 23, as he smoked a cigarette and gazed at the house, which was missing windows and had a hole in the roof. The smell of smoke and charred wood still lingered.

University counselors were on hand to help students, and the school encouraged students to call their families. Pictures of the students were posted on a wall in a campus building, along with markers and paper where students left notes such as "You will be missed" or "RIP."

Hams had his own Web page with pictures of him water skiing, doing stunts with a motocross dirt bike and flying a small airplane. He said he liked snowboarding, wakeboarding and skateboarding.

"I can't believe it's real," said his father, Allen Hams. "I know there's a reason. God's got a plan. He's such a good kid; he'd do anything for anybody."

Scott Hams was to graduate in May with a degree in business administration with an emphasis on risk control, and he had an internship lined up, his father said.

Hams, who has a 14-year-old brother, lost his mother to cancer three years ago.

"The police came over with the pastor and I said, 'What's going on here?'" Hams said. "They told me to sit down, and then we all had a good cry together."

Englund, a senior, was majoring in retail merchandising with a minor in business. Bill Englund said his daughter had worked at a women's clothing store for five years.

"She loved it. She loved fashion, colors, design," Englund said. "She studied to do that. She was already promised a job when she graduated next year."

One of the family's highlights every year was a canoe trip that included her 80-year-old grandmother.

"She looked forward to that every year, being with family, being out in the woods," Englund said. "She was a city girl otherwise."

Rief was a sophomore majoring in business administration. She worked at the front desk in a dorm, said her boss, Allison Shuldhiess, also a UW-Stout student.

"She was very friendly and good at her job," Shuldhiess said. "She was very helpful, and she didn't complain about work."

The school of 8,400 students is about 70 miles east of Minneapolis.

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Associated Press writer Colin Fly in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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