ATF Reports on Ole Miss Fire

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has concluded its investigation into the fraternity house fire that killed three students at the University of Mississippi.

The ATF issued a report Friday saying the cause of the blaze remains "undetermined.''

The report said the fire that killed Howard Stone, 19, of Martinsville, Va., William Townsend, 19, of Clarksdale, and Jordan Williams, 20, of Atlanta, started Aug. 27 in a basement bedroom of the Alpha Tau Omega house.

ATF investigators found no evidence that the fire was intentionally set and there was no evidence of foul play.

The report said investigators also examined electrical appliances near the fire's origin and found no evidence of failure. The report said: "No specific source of ignition could be identified at the point of origin. Therefore, the cause of this fire will remain classified as undetermined.''

Twenty-three students and a house mother escaped the fire at the two-story, brick-and-wood frame building.

Witnesses said Townsend, one of the students killed when the fire broke out about 4:30 a.m., returned to the burning structure to save two fraternity brothers and the house mother.

The University of Mississippi released a response to the ATF report.

"We wish the investigation had revealed a conclusive cause for the fire," said Chancellor Robert Khayat. "Nevertheless, we are grateful for the hard work of the ATF, the state fire marshal, and the other agencies who investigated. The ATF report brings an official close to a tragic event in the history of our university, but the memories of the three young men who perished in the fire will live on."

The fire was the second at the ATO house. In April 1998, the house was heavily damaged by a fire that started in a boiler room. No one was hurt in that fire.