All residents displaced by massive Charleston apartment fire accounted for

The three-alarm fire at Palms Apartments in West Ashley was first reported at 4:54 a.m. The...
The three-alarm fire at Palms Apartments in West Ashley was first reported at 4:54 a.m. The fire damaged or destroyed 56 units, firefighters say.(Ahmed Hamdy Ebrahim)
Published: Feb. 7, 2022 at 6:01 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 7, 2022 at 9:01 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston Police Department has confirmed that all residents of the 56 units damaged are destroyed in a three-alarm apartment fire in West Ashley are safe.

On top of that, Sgt. Elisabeth Wolfsen said, there were no injuries in the early-morning fire.

Charleston Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh said 56 units at the Palms Apartments on Royal Palm Boulevard were damaged or destroyed by the fire. Crews responded at 4:54 a.m. Monday to a report of a fire at the Palms Apartment complex, located on Royal Palm Boulevard near Orange Grove and Orange Branch Roads.

As of approximately two and a half hours after they initially arrived, firefighters were working to put out remaining hotspots.

Chief: A ‘challenging fire’ for Charleston firefighters

When crews first arrived at the 220 building, they rescued at least five people who were on their balconies. The fire is believed to have begun in the first floor, but before firefighters arrived on the scene, it had already spread to the attic space, Julazedeh said.

Charleston Fire Chief Daniel Curia said the first crews on the scene faced a major challenge with the fire.

“First units had insurmountable odds, he said. “And the fact that the fire is under control at this point with no reported injuries is is probably the best we can hope for.”

Julazadeh said that when firefighters first arrived, the fire seemed to be confined to the first floor and residents were reporting smoke in the hallway.

“So we don’t believe there was a large volume of smoke on the initial arrival,” he said. “However, shortly after they arrived we started having reports of fire visible in the attic or venting from the attic shortly after that fire was actually breaching through the roof of the building. So we know that the flame conditions had already spread prior to their arrival.”

As crews battled the fire, Julazadeh said there were reports of collapses in the building, requiring firefighters to back out.

“Five of those seven buildings are at the point of being destroyed,” he said.

Crews were continuing to search through the remaining units as hotspots were put out.

Cario said they had approximately 26 units and “a little over 100″ firefighters responding to the scene.

Curia praised the partnership he said the Charleston Fire Department has with North Charleston and St. Andrews Departments, saying all came together to bring the fire under control.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg also praised the Charleston Police Department for their quick actions before the first firefighters arrived at the scene.

“Some of the citizens were telling me it was the police officers going door-to-door to rouse them out of to safety,” he said.

The Charleston Police Forensics Unit was on the scene after the fire was largely extinguished. Wolfsen said the investigation was in its very preliminary stages.

Mayor: ‘A real blessing’ that no one was hurt

At a Monday morning news conference, fire officials said no injuries had been reported but said they were working with the apartment’s leasing office to confirm the safety of residents of eight units who had not, as of 10 a.m., been accounted for.

“It’s a real blessing, y’all,” Tecklenburg said. “As of this point, we’re praying that holds that no one has reported any injuries or deaths.”

The final confirmation came before 3 p.m.

Julazadeh said the building was not equipped with sprinklers, but that it was built at a time when sprinklers were not mandated in the fire code.

County records show the apartments were built in 1966.

According to the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the state’s building code first required fire sprinklers in new apartment buildings on July 22, 2005. Requirements are not retroactive, and only apply to buildings established after that date.

“It’s a great safety measure. We know the fire sprinklers save lives,” he said. “And that’s why they’re mandated as part of current code. But this building would not have been brought up to today’s code unless there was substantial renovation that was done.”

Under SC law, single-family homes do not have any requirement for fire sprinklers.

Photos sent from someone in the area show multiple buildings that suffered heavy damage from the fire.

In addition to the three fire departments, Charleston County EMS and a Red Cross Disaster Unit responded. Red Cross spokesperson Mandy McWhorter said 11 volunteers were on the scene to immediately assist displaced residents along with two members of the agency’s virtual intake team. More, she said, were on standby.

A CARTA bus and two school buses also responded to the scene. CARTA spokesman Daniel Brock said their bus was providing cover from the elements.

Firefighters say the buses also took the victims to the nearby Masonic Lodge where they were being sheltered in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

In a Facebook post, The Charleston Fire Department said an estimated 179 residents were displaced overall because of the fire.

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