Sprinkler system squelches apartment fire in downtown apartment building

Water from a single fire sprinkler head was enough to suppress a fire in a George Street apartment Friday and prevent what could have been a very serious fire, Charleston fire officials said Saturday.

About 5:40 p.m. Friday, the fire department was dispatched to an automatic fire alarm at 21 George St., according to a news release from the Charleston Fire Department.

When firefighters arrived, they smelled a burning odor and saw water flowing from underneath an apartment door, the release said. The call was upgraded to a possible structure fire, and additional fire units were dispatched.

Residents were evacuated from the building and firefighters forced entry into the apartment where the water was coming from, the release said.

A single fire sprinkler head located in that apartment had contained the fire to the kitchen area of the apartment. Firefighters finished putting out the fire and checked to make sure it had not extended into other rooms or apartments.

"Without the fire sprinkler system we would have had a substantial event, damaged multiple apartments, and displaced numerous families," said Charleston Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh. "The fire sprinkler system was part of the critical life safety components of this building. In this case, a single fire sprinkler head operated and controlled the fire event until the fire department could arrive and mitigate any remaining hazards. Management is working to repair water damage and restore minimal smoke and fire damage."

Investigators determined the fire had been accidentally set when a new tenant who was moving in had place combustible items on the stove. A control knob to the stove was inadvertently activated, perhaps in the moving process, the release said.

Fire officials said residents should remember to never store combustible materials on a stove or cooking surface and to always maintain working smoke alarms.

The Charleston Fire Department was assisted by the St. Andrews Fire Department, Charleston County EMS, and the Charleston Police Department.