By Natalie Caula
Charleston, SC- The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released its technical study of the Sofa Super Store fire on Thursday analyzing the blaze and offering recommendations.
The agency presented their findings to family of the fallen nine, then firefighters and city officials, then to the media on Friday in three separate meetings.
According to NIST, a fire ignited in a pile of packing material and discarded furniture outside of the loading dock.
"The fire spread quickly within the loading dock and moved into both the retail showroom and warehouse spaces," the report reads.
It goes on to detail the direction and intensity (temperature and oxygen levels) of the blaze. It also concludes that before the front windows were broken out by members of the Charleston Fire Department, the blaze "was still ventilation limited and its growth was slowed by the lack of oxygen."
A computer simulation model, provided by NIST shows the great difference between the fire spreading with or without the front windows knocked out.
"When the front windows were broken out or vented, additional oxygen flowed in the front windows, along the flood, and to the rear of the showroom and became available to the fire. The additional oxygen allowed the heat release rate of the fire to increase extremely rapidly and ignite the layer of unburned fuel below the drop ceiling," the report said.
According to NIST officials, the conditions inside the Sofa Super Store were untenable even before the windows were knocked out. However, the report indicates the NIST study did not include analysis of the threat to protected fire fighters and their locations inside.
"If a fire fighter in turnout gear is utilizing a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and has an adequate supply of air, the fire fighter can temporarily survive higher temperatures and depleted external oxygen levels," the report said.
Ann and Michael Mulkey lost their son Louis Mulkey to the fire. Randy Hutchinson and his mother lost Billy Hutchinson. Both said the information released speaks volumes about accountability.
"Where do we go from here? We've got to move forward and, we're looking at accountability," Hutchinson said.
The Hutchinson's and Mulkey's have pushed for a criminal investigation. SLED is now looking into the matter.
"I'm not going to let Louis down nor the other eight guys. There's no way I'm going to do that," Mulkey said.
The Effects of Sprinklers
NIST used a computer simulation to demonstrate the circumstances if automated sprinklers had been installed on the loading dock. NIST officials say the fire would have been contained to the loading dock.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley says this information will be useful in the city's fight to push sprinkler legislation to the General Assembly.
"I will fight to get the legislation passed, but we now have this document, that is, not just an argument, we've got a document that says that," Riley said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
Ann Mulkey said hearing that sprinklers would have saved the nine lives was heart wrenching.
"No one would have gotten killed if had that building had sprinklers," Mulkey said.
The General Assembly has failed to pass restrictions on automated sprinklers up to date.
NIST made eleven recommendations based on their findings. Those include the following; state and local jurisdictions adopting a building and fire codes covering new and existing high fuel-load mercantile occupancies based on model code; state and local jurisdictions use qualified and fire inspectors and building plan examiners up to national standards; state and local jurisdictions enforcing sprinklers for all new commercial retail furniture stores regardless of size and for existing retail furniture stores with any single display area larger than 2000 ft; and developing guidelines as to how and when ventilation should be implemented in a fire.
The federal group also conducted a three year building and fire safety investigation to study the factors contributing to the probable causes of post-impact collapse of the World Trade Center Towers and made recommendations stemming from the investigation.
NIST has opened the Draft Report on the Sofa Super Store fire to public comment for the next 30 days. Comments can be submitted online on their website at www.nist.gov.
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