Charleston 9 not forgotten nine years after fatal fire

VIDEO: Charleston 9 not forgotten nine years after fatal fire
Updated: Jun. 18, 2016 at 11:10 PM EDT
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The community mourned the loss of nine Charleston firefighters. (Source: Live 5)
The community mourned the loss of nine Charleston firefighters. (Source: Live 5)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Saturday marks nine years since fire ripped through a West Ashley furniture store, killing nine Charleston firefighters.

The Charleston 9, as the victims came to be known, died at the scene of the fire on the evening of June 18, 2007.

MOBILE USERS: Click here for photos of the fallen.

A special ceremony honoring the firefighters is scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m. at the site where the Sofa Super Store once stood at 1807 Savannah Hwy.

The ceremony will include a lineup of uniformed personnel, the reading of the names of the fallen and ringing of the bell, followed by bagpipes, according to Charleston Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh.

Parking at the site will be limited during the ceremony. Visitors are encouraged to utilize various off-site parking in the immediate area.

Charleston fire personnel initiated a watch at the flagpole of the memorial site starting at midnight and continuing for the 24 hours of June 18. Members of the community are welcome to visit the site throughout the vigil.

A report on the fire indicated in addition to the nine who were lost, an additional six almost did not make it out.

At approximately 7:07 p.m. that evening, the fire department was dispatched to the furniture store on Savannah Highway. Crews arrived on the scene three minutes later and the first battalion chief on the scene reported trash burning on the side of the building.

At 7:14 p.m., radio traffic indicated the fire was spreading into the showroom, the report stated.

At 7:27 p.m., a store employee trapped in the warehouse behind the store called for help, the report stated. By 7:29 p.m., distress calls from firefighters inside the store were heard. After the employee was rescued, there were mayday calls from inside the store, the report stated.

The victims were:

  • Engineer Bradford "Brad" Baity, of Engine 19
  • Capt. Mike Benke of Engine 16
  • Firefighter Melvin Champaign, of Engine 16
  • Firefighter James "Earl" Drayton, of Engine 19
  • Asst. Engineer Michael French, of Ladder 5
  • Capt. William Hutchinson, of Engine 19
  • Engineer Mark Kelsey, of Ladder 5
  • Capt. Louis Mulkey, of Engine 15
  • Firefighter Brandon Thompson, of Ladder 5.

At the memorial service for the men held four days later, an estimated 30,000 people attended, including firefighters from agencies across North America, including Alberta, Canada.

"As they entered that building, they walked into the pages of history of our community," then Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said.

The City of Charleston later purchased the 2.5 acre site for $1.9 million. and the site was turned into a memorial park that opened two years after the tragedy.

The fire caused the greatest single loss of firefighters since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

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