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Sprinklers not included in store's updates

Like many old buildings in South Carolina's oldest city, the Sofa Super Store and warehouse outside downtown Charleston were without fire sprinklers.

The former grocery store building on U.S. 17 in West Ashley -- about 50 years old according to the Charleston Fire Department -- underwent a renovation a decade or so ago but was not retrofitted with overhead sprinklers, assistant chief Larry Garvin said.

The building's inspection history wasn't clear Tuesday. The city of Charleston did not make fire inspection records for the store available to The State.

The newspaper has officially requested access to the records.

Given the swiftness and ferocity of the furniture-fueled fire, officials speculated, the extra water might not have mattered.

Nine Charleston firefighters died Monday when the roof above the store and warehouse came crashing down on top of them.

New buildings are required to have sprinklers if they are above a certain size.

The Sofa Super Store is large enough to require sprinklers if it were built today.

Earlier this decade, South Carolina strengthened its fire code, requiring buildings larger than 12,000 square feet to have sprinklers. The sofa warehouse is more than 30,000 square feet, but is grandfathered because it predated stricter codes, Mayor Joe Riley said.

Sofa Super Store owner Herb Goldstein of Sullivan's Island could not be reached for comment.

His son Jeff Goldstein, a cofounder of the Sticky Fingers restaurant chain, declined to be interviewed, except to say his father "is completely out of his mind and devastated" over the firefighters' deaths.

Three years ago, six people and dozens were injured in a hotel fire in Greenville. That fire -- later determined found to be arson -- prompted lawmakers to consider a bill requiring most hotels to be retrofitted with sprinklers.

But the bill was rejected after hotel owners objected it would be too costly. Hotels without sprinklers must display a sign in the lobby saying they don't have them.

Donations for the dead firefighters' families are being accepted at the City of Charleston's Fireman Fund, P.O. Box 304, Charleston, SC, 29402, and at any Bank of America branch.

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