WEST ASHLEY, S.C. (WCBD) – The community will mark 15 years since nine of Charleston’s bravest were killed during a large fire at the Sofa Superstore on Savannah Highway.
Just days before the anniversary, a recruit from the Charleston Fire Department’s Class 22-01 – son of Captain Mike Benke – graduated from the department’s recruit program as he follows in his father’s footsteps.
Hunter Benke was among 23 recruits who completed the 16-week academy and earned 350 hours of training.
The Charleston Fire Department will honor the lives of Capt. Benke and fellow firefighters with a remembrance ceremony at Charleston 9 Memorial Park on Saturday.
Fire personnel will stand watch at the flagpole inside the park for 24 hours beginning at midnight.
It was the evening of June 18th, 2007, when the fire alarms sounded. Black smoke was seen pouring from the furniture store and warehouse, and as firefighters began to battle the flames, a 911 call comes in saying an employee is trapped inside.
Firefighters rushed inside and rescued the employee. The fire quickly consumed the building once that worker was freed.
But the firefighters still inside the building sent out a “mayday call.” The fire caused the roof to collapse. That call would be one of the last things we heard from the nine heroes inside.
“Tonight… a great and heroic tragedy has befallen our community. Brave members of the City of Charleston Fire Department, fighting this massive blaze in a store filled with fuel, among the most combustible of fuel, a sofa store. This massive fire has produced several City of Charleston firefighters who are now missing,” said Charleston Mayor Joe Riley as he addressed the community that night.
The following day, each fallen firefighter was carried out of the store by their brothers, one by one, in a silent, solemn salute.
We remember and honor those nine lives on this 15th anniversary:
- Captain Billy Hutchinson
- Captain Louis Mulkey
- Captain Mike Benke
- Engineer Brad Baity
- Engineer Mark Kelsey
- Assistant Engineer Michael French
- Firefighter Brandon Thompson
- Firefighter Earl Drayton
- Firefighter Melvin Champaign
Members of the fire service and community are invited to attend the remembrance ceremony on Saturday evening. It takes place from 7:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. at the site of the Sofa Superstore Fire.