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A fire occurred on the evening of June 18, 2007, in the Sofa Super Store at 1807 Savannah Highway, Charleston, South Carolina. The fire swept from the rear to the front of the main showroom extremely quickly, and then into the west and east showrooms. Nine fire fighters from the Charleston Fire Department were killed in the fire.
NIST conducted a study to determine the likely technical causes of the rapid fire growth that led to the high number of fire fighter casualties in that fire. The local criminal investigation of the fire took priority over the NIST technical study. NIST access to witnesses and local authorities was limited due to the criminal investigations and civil litigation. Since there were no continuous real-time observations or photos in all locations, NIST conducted computer modeling to fill in the gaps and determine the probable sequence of events based on fire physics, coupled to the fire response time line.
Based on its findings, the NIST technical study team made 11 recommendations for enhancing building, occupant and firefighter safety nationwide. In particular, the team urged state and local communities to adopt and strictly adhere to current national model building and fire safety codes.
Specifically, the NIST report calls for national model building and fire codes to require sprinklers for all new commercial retail furniture stores regardless of size, and for existing retail furniture stores with any single display area of greater than 190 square meters (2,000 square feet). Other recommendations include adopting model codes that cover high fuel load situations (such as a furniture store), ensuring proper fire inspections and building plan examinations, and encouraging research for a better understanding of fire situations such as venting of smoke from burning buildings and the spread of fire on furniture.
Details are available in the report, Technical Study of the Sofa Super Store Fire, South Carolina, June 18, 2007, Volume I and Volume II.
A reconnaissance team of fire experts was sent to the site of the warehouse fire in Charleston, S.C. (Photo Credit: NIST)