Saturday, June 18th marks the fourth anniversary of the deaths of nine brave Charleston firefighters. The fire started at approximately 7:00 p.m. at the Sofa Super Store on Savannah Highway in West Ashley, and firefighters arrived on the scene just three minutes after the alarm. In the Sofa Super Store blaze, a loading dock fire spread through the building filled with highly combustible furniture. The firefighters’ initial attack focused on extinguishing the fire in the loading dock area, with a secondary effort to search for and evacuate civilians and to prevent the fire from spreading to the showroom and warehouse. However, an exterior door was opened near where the fire was raging, and efforts to close the door failed, allowing the fire to enter the showroom.
Nine firefighters were then trapped inside the building. Mike Benke, Billy Hutchinson, Louis Mulkey, Mark Kelsey, Brad Baity, Michael French, Earl Drayton, Brandon Thompson and Melvin Champaign died from a combination of smoke inhalation and burns. This tragedy was the greatest single loss of firefighters in the United States since 343 firefighters were lost in the 9/11 attack of the World Trade Center.
As the four-year anniversary of the Sofa Super Store disaster approaches, the city is working to turn the site into a more fitting memorial for the deceased firefighters. While plans for a permanent memorial are years away, Charleston is working to create a landscaped site with unique memorial markers for the nine firefighters, which will replace the current parking lot and field that has nine simple markers holding small flags. A lighted 25-foot flag pole with a marker explaining what happened will be circled by benches and will feature unique markers placed where each of the nine firefighters died. This memorial will be a constant reminder to take the time to remember and honor the brave and dedicated men who gave their lives trying to save others.