CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP/WTOC) - Officials have identified the nine firefighters who were killed last night in a fire at a Charleston furniture warehouse. The men had worked for the department anywhere from 18 months to 30 years. Killed were:
- Capt. William "Billy" Hutchinson, 48
- Capt. Mike Benke, 49
- Capt. Louis Mulkey, 34
- Engineer Mark Kelsey, 40
- Engineer Bradford "Brad" Baity, 37
- Assistant Engineer Michael French, 27
- Firefighter James "Earl" Drayton, 56
- Firefighter Brandon Thompson, 27
- Firefighter Melven Champaign, 46
The fire was the worst single incident to claim firefighters' lives since 9/11, when 340 firefighters, two paramedics and a chaplain were killed. That's according to the National Fire Protection Association.
It's the deadliest fire in South Carolina since a 1979 blaze killed eleven people in the Lancaster County jail.
Gov. Mark Sanford has ordered South Carolina's state flags lowered to half staff in honor of the nine firefighters who died last night.
"What happened in Charleston last night is an all too tragic reminder of the danger faced by firefighters and other men and women in uniform as they put themselves in harm's way each and every day to keep the rest of us safe," Gov. Sanford said in a statement. "These are truly some of South Carolina's bravest, who in this case made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. I'd ask each and every South Carolinian to join me, Jenny and the boys in keeping these nine families in our thoughts and prayers in the difficult weeks and months ahead."
Notes and flowers have been left at the base of a monument to firefighters in a small plaza next to the city's main fire house.
One note thanks the firefighters for their bravery and for putting their lives on the line to "keep us all safe."
The cause of the fire is under investigation, but Charleston's mayor, Joe Riley, says arson is not suspected.
Riley says the firefighters were "brave, heroic, courageous" and died carrying out their duties.
The bodies were taken to the Medical University of South Carolina. Riley says the names will be released after the identities are confirmed.
The roof of the building collapsed, and witnesses say the firefighters never had a chance. Witnesses say the collapse threw debris over about two dozen rescue workers.
Two employees in the building were rescued from the blaze. The fire started about 7pm at the Sofa Super Store and warehouse.
The mayor says to lose nine firefighters is "just a tragedy of immense proportions."
The department has 237 firefighters in 19 companies located throughout the city.
Locally, three firefighters have left the Low Country to support their counterparts in Charleston during this tragedy.
The fire chief and one fire captain from the Lady's Island/St. Helena Fire District and the chief from Beaufort FD have left to support Charleston firefighters in whatever way they can.
Palmetto Chapter of the American Red Cross is also sending disaster volunteers tonight to Charleston to assist the emergency workers who are investigating the fire.
The volunteers will be working in the Emergency Response Vehicle, feeding the workers on site, providing food and drink for workers 24 hours a day until it is no longer necessary.