Building that echoes loss, pain is coming down

Cheryl Sanders talks with her neighbor Dave Rogash , who both near the Sofa Super Store site, about the need for the nine firefighters to be honored and the building demolished.

They started tearing it down Monday.

For six months now, we've had to drive by that charred pile of twisted steel and ash — some of us every day — and each time it's like a sucker punch to the gut.

Men died here, nine of them.

It has become a constant, unavoidable reminder of tragedy. When you see someone on the sidewalk leaving behind a heart-shaped wreath, another teddy bear or a plastic fire hat, you wonder if they are one of the people who lost a father, a husband, a brother, or a friend.

After a while, it gets to you.

"I thought they should have torn it down a long time ago," says Leroy Major, who walks by the site regularly. "Every time you come by — boom — it hits you."

The site has become a shrine, Charleston's own ground zero, and a sad monument to loss. Most people in West Ashley, who live with the remains of the Sofa Super Store, say they're glad the backhoe arrived Monday.

It's about time.

Because open wounds don't heal.

The fire has become one of the city's greatest tragedies, a story that will not be forgotten. Many of those who live in the neighborhood still remember that night — the sirens, that sickening black smoke spreading across the sky. It is a sight that haunts people.

On Monday, Dave Rogash watched as the backhoe knocked down steel beams in the warehouse, winced at the sound of aluminum roofing twisting in protest. He was there that night, and remembers thinking within 10 minutes that it seemed like something was wrong. And he can't forget it.

"This is a sad and violent reminder," he says.

Cheryl Sanders was there, too. For a long time after the fire, she would walk past the long line of mourners, gawkers and firefighters, occasionally sharing photographs she took that night. Sometimes, an out-of-state firefighter would send her a patch from his station. Her kindness moved them.

But Sanders can't shake the feeling that men died while she was standing a few yards away, and she is one of the many people who are glad the day has finally come to clear this site.

"It's been like a ghost," she says, "like the men are still here."

There is a billboard in town that features a silhouette of the nine firefighters who died here June 18. It says "Not Forgotten." People here say that tearing down the Sofa Super Store is not about forgetting these men, that they died doing their jobs. They overwhelmingly believe the ground should become a park, which it will one day. There should be a memorial, most say, a monument to the men who died here.

But they believe just as strongly that the building is a horrible way to remember these men, like leaving a wrecked car at the site of a fatal crash.

The men should be honored, the building demolished.

"It's like a skeleton," Sanders says, watching the building come down. "It needs to be buried."