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Midway Fire: Warehouse sprinklers had no water

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A sprinkler system without water allowed a fire at a warehouse in Pawleys Island to spread beyond the electrical room where it began, according to Midway Fire and Rescue. The Nov. 25 fire did an estimated $825,000 in damage to Cohen’s Drywall and Insulation.

“Unfortunately, the fire sprinkler system didn’t work initially,” said Todd Blomdahl, the Midway fire marshal. “For some reason, someone had turned off the control valve.”

The fire has been ruled accidental. It started in a room that contained electrical and phone panels. It was reported by a passerby around 9 a.m.

“Had the system been working at the time of the fire, I feel pretty confident there would have been a lot less damage,” Blomdahl said. “There was a sprinkler head in the room itself.”

The fire spread to bales of fiberglass insulation. Once the plastic covering the bales burned through, the bales popped open and the paper backing caught fire, Blomdahl said. Midway firefighters had the fire under control in about 90 minutes, but they stayed on the scene for another 10 hours because the insulation continued to ignite.

Midway crews connected the sprinkler system to a water supply, but they decided it wasn’t able to put enough water on the fire, Blomdahl said.

A backhoe was brought in from the county Public Works department to tear open the side of the metal building so the insulation could be dragged outside.

“Our guys did a very good job of containing and extinguishing the fire, considering the fire load,” Blomdahl said.

The building was once the manufacturing plant for the Pawleys Island Rope Hammock Co. and the sprinkler system was old, he said. But it had been inspected and tested in May.

“The company that did that inspection left it in working order,” Blomdahl said. “Why someone turned it off, I don’t know.”

No one at the company knew either, he said.

Turning off the control valve should have sent a signal to the alarm panel that would have notified the owner, Blomdahl said. He checked with the alarm company and was told it had been about a year since a signal had come in from the system. “That was kind of odd,” he said.

The alarm panel was in the room where the fire began so it was impossible to determine if it was working, Blomdahl said.

“Systems do get turned off periodically if it leaks or it needs to be worked on,” he said. “No one knew who turned it off or for what reason.”

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