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Fed report: Sprinklers likely would have contained Sofa Store blaze

More than two-years of analysis calls for general furniture store, firefighting reforms

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A sprinkler system on the loading dock at the Sofa Super Store could have contained the major fire that engulfed the building on June 18, 2007, according to a more than two-year analysis by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. An arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST officials say their review is not meant to lay blame for the blaze, which led to the deaths of nine Charleston firefighters.

"Our study was focused on our specific expertise, fire science, and we cannot tell you based on our findings how or why the firefighters became trapped," says Nelson Bryner, study team leader and deputy division chief for NIST's Fire Research Division.

Instead, the report is meant to determine the unique circumstances that led to the tragedy and learn how a similar fire in the future could be handled differently. Investigators were on the ground 36 hours after the fire to document the scene and to interview firefighters, employees, and other witnesses on the early stages of the fire and how it spread.

Using computer models to simulate the spread of the blaze, researchers determined that sprinklers on the loading dock could have sufficiently contained the blaze to a level that wouldn't have endangered lives.

NIST recommends improved building standards for furniture stores, including mandated sprinkler systems for most stores, as well as broader improvements in fire code enforcement and education. Analysts are calling for further studies on upholstered furniture, fire barriers, and fire safety resources, ventilation, and performance measures.

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