June 19, 2007
Fire swept through a furniture warehouse, collapsing the building's roof and claiming the lives of nine firefighters in a disaster the mayor described Tuesday as "difficult to fathom or quantify."
"Nine brave, heroic, courageous firefighters of the city of Charleston have perished fighting fire in a most courageous and fearless manner, . . ." Mayor Joseph Riley said at a morning news conference. "To all of their loved ones, our heart goes out to them."
Two employees in the building were rescued from the blaze, which broke out at about 7 p.m. Monday in the Sofa Super Store and warehouse, Riley said.
Overnight, firefighters, police officers and other rescue workers saluted as the bodies were carried from the warehouse.
"To lose nine is just a tragedy of immense proportions," Riley said. "To lose nine is just unbelievable."
The cause of the fire was under investigation, but Riley said arson was not suspected.
He said the blaze apparently started in a storage area. He was unsure whether there were sprinklers in the building.
Witnesses said the store's roof collapsed, throwing debris over about two-dozen rescue workers. Onlookers were hit with flying ash.
"It was like a 30-foot (nine-metre) tornado of flames," said one witness, Mark Hilton.
Eric Glover told that he and a number of other firefighters were at a golf tournament to benefit the family of a firefighter who had recently died when they heard the call come over their scanners. By the time he arrived the roof had already collapsed.
"It all happened pretty fast. They didn't really have a chance," Glover said.
"You're always close to the guys because you spend a third of your life with these guys. Every third day you spend 24 hours there, so you get real close," he said.
Daniel Shahid, a salesman at a nearby car dealership, said firefighters came in asking for towels.