Old thrift store burns in the heart of Triangle City during Tuesday’s afternoon drive
West Columbia, SC (Paul Kirby) – In a show of spectacular smoke and flames, the old thrift store near the intersection of Charleston Highway, Meeting Street, and 12th Street was burned out just as the afternoon commute was beginning Tuesday. The call for the fire department that came in right at 5:00 p.m. originally misidentified the business as being located at 1003 Charleston Highway, about a mile further up the road. The mistake by the multiple callers didn’t seem to hinder the responding firefighter’s arrival. There was so much smoke pouring out of the burning building at times that it completely covered famous West Columbia landmarks like Zesto’s giant cone so that they were completely out of view.
First due fire equipment from the WCFD reported that flames were pushing out of the rear of the building and they quickly spotted a hydrant for water supply. As crews finished suiting up, more equipment began to arrive with additional manpower and another engine was asked to hook a second hydrant for additional fire flow. As the crews set up and went to work, more resources from a number of automatic mutual aid departments continued to arrive on the scene. Police officers blocked the roads, causing a traffic snarl for some trying to get home from work.
The building was not so large as was the fire load inside. According to bystanders who knew the building and its newest renter, it was being converted into a legal micro-distillery where small batches of artisan liquor could be made. The problem was that many of the items from the past occupant’s thrift store were still in the building too. As the changes from occupancies were taking place, the fire began and quickly consumed the heavy fire load giving the fire the opportunity to roar through the items in moments. This was a challenge for the fire department as a fire in this stage normally is only seen in night fires when a blaze has been burning undetected for some time; think the His House thrift store fire.
Eventually, the fire was brought under control in about an hour thanks to a cooperative effort from West Columbia, Lexington County, Cayce DPS, the Irmo Fire District, and the City of Columbia Fire Departments. All were under the unified command of a West Columbia chief officer that coordinated their efforts and ensured the safety of each firefighter as they went about their various tasks. Although crews stayed on the scene for some time after the fire was deemed under control, they were simply mopping up hot spots, and ensuring that all areas and items were completely out.
The owner of the distillery told witnesses on the scene they had not left the business for very long and that they had lost the majority of their equipment and belongings. They said that they had rented the building from its owner and had no insurance to cover their things stored inside the structure. They were to be a part of the renaissance of the area where businesses like pubs, locally owned eateries, and other such offerings that would draw more than bargain seekers who frequent the many thrift stores in the area could enjoy themselves.
The fire crews did a great job despite the problems with the street number on dispatch. This highlights a major problem that has plagued emergency services since time of these types of organized responses began. If the caller, or in this case multiple callers, simply mistakenly add a zero to the building number, the telecommunications operator must rely on their eyes as witness to where the emergency is. In Tuesday’s instance, the address didn’t matter much because of the heavy smoke showing. If someone had been having a life-threatening medical emergency, this could have been devastating. That is why emergency officials harp on having all buildings marked appropriately to prevent dispatch problems.
Even though Lexington County EMS had multiple units, their mass casualty bus, and supervisory personnel on the scene, it appeared as if no firefighters were injured at this fire. They were reportedly using the bus to rehab firefighters who had worked so hard in the heat.
West Columbia officials have not released an exact cause or the origin of the fire or the estimated monetary loss of the building and contents. The building did appear to be completely gutted by the fire.