June 19, 2007
CHARLESTON, SC (WIS/AP) - Charleston Mayor Joe Riley says nine firefighters were killed in a fire at a furniture store Monday night.
The mayor describes the nine firemen as brave, heroic, and courageous because the fact is, they were trying to save a life when they lost theirs.
"Nine brave, heroic, courageous firefighters of the city of Charleston have perished fighting fire in a most courageous and fearless manner, carrying out their duties," Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley said at a morning news conference. "To all of their loved ones, our heart goes out to them."
The mayor also described the disaster as "difficult to fathom or quantify."
Riley says the bodies have been taken to the Medical University of South Carolina for positive identification. Riley says officials met with the families of the firefighters who were missing earlier Tuesday morning.
He says the names will be released after the identities are confirmed, though we have learned that Station 16 & 19, which are both located in the same firehouse on Ashley Hall Rd., lost six firefighters. Station 10, which is located on Savannah Highway, lost three.
A news conference was planned for 2pm.
Riley says there is no indication of arson, but he says the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the State Law Enforcement Division are investigating. Officials say it appears to have started in a storage area.
When firefighters first arrived, they entered the inferno to rescue what they were told were two trapped employees.
They found one, then re-entered for the second, when the unthinkable happened.
The intense heat essentially melted the structure supporting the roof and it collapsed.
Riley says two employees in the store made it out safely.
The mayor says the fire is a tragic event for the community and difficult to comprehend the magnitude.
The fire broke out about 7pm Monday evening at the Sofa Super Store and warehouse. It was a massive fire, fueled by all the wood and flammable material inside.
One witness described the fire as being like "a 30-foot tornado of flames."
Another witness said, "It came from nowhere. It was a standing structure and five seconds later it was on the ground."
The department has 237 firefighters in 19 companies located throughout the city. Firefighters saluted as the bodies of their colleagues were taken from the warehouse.
Governor Mark Sanford has ordered that flags be lowered to half-staff on state buildings, and the Columbia fire chief is on his way to Charleston to see what kind of help Columbia firefighters can give.
A representative from the department also said that all Columbia fire stations are on standby right now.
State and federal officials are investigating.