This image from the NIST model indicates oxygen volume dropped to 12 percent in much of the front showroom one minute after firefighters broke the front windows.

NIST Models Sofa Super Store Fire

The most urgent of 11 recommendations in a long-awaited report is that state and local communities adopt and strictly adhere to current national model building and fire safety codes.

Drawing 11 recommendations from the June 2007 fire in a Charleston, S.C., furniture warehouse in which nine firefighters died, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued its draft report Thursday analyzing how the fire spread so rapidly and how fire risks in such occupancies should be controlled. The most urgent recommendation in the long-awaited report is that state and local communities adopt and strictly adhere to current national model building and fire safety codes.

The Sofa Super Store was not equipped with fire sprinklers. The fire began in trash allowed to collect on a loading dock behind the store, and the contents of the store -- furniture stacked high throughout a large, open show floor -- constituted a high fire load. When firefighters broke the store's front windows, the fire immediately exploded throughout the showroom as the temperature inside soared and oxygen quickly was depleted, according to the NIST computer simulation. NIST experts were on the site of the disaster two days after it happened, collecting documents and interviewing responders. They then began developing a model of the fire spread, smoke movement, and other conditions of the fire.

"Furniture stores typically have large amounts of combustible material and represent a significant fire hazard," said Nelson Bryner, leader of the study. "Model building codes should require both new and existing furniture stores to have automatic sprinklers, especially if those stores include large, open display areas."

The report recommends that national model building and fire codes require sprinklers for all new commercial retail furniture stores of whatever size and for existing retail furniture stores with any single display area larger than 2,000 square feet. It says model codes should be adopted that cover high fuel load situations, ensuring proper fire inspections and building plan examinations and also encouraging research into fire situations, such as venting of smoke from burning buildings and the spread of fire on furniture.

Comments on the report and recommendations will be considered for the final report if received by noon EST on Dec. 2. E-mail them to firesafety@nist.gov, fax to 301-975-4052, or mail to the attention of NIST Technical Study: Sofa Super Store, NIST, 100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8660, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8660.

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