The one-year anniversary of the fatal Sofa Super Store blaze is quickly approaching, and support continues to pour in from communities across America.
On Saturday, a group of 18 firefighters, a deputy sheriff and a physician set out on bicycles from Naples, Fla., on a mission: To provide financial and emotional support to the families of the nine firefighters killed in the June 18 sofa store blaze.
Known as the "Brotherhood Ride 2008," the 600-mile, nine-day bicycle trip arrives in Charleston on June 1.
"It touched my heart," said Shirley Watral, volunteer marketing coordinator for the Brotherhood Ride. "They're making a point that these men will not be forgotten for the sacrifice they made for their community."
The journey has made stops each day to eat and rest in Arcadia, Winter Haven, Eustis and Palatka, Fla. The journey continues to Jacksonville; Brunswick, Ga.; Savannah; and Walterboro before ending in Charleston. The group raised $10,000 prior to the send-off and is collecting more and more with every mile.
Each day, the group is greeted by fire departments, law enforcement officers, members of the American Red Cross and other community members along the route.
Brotherhood Ride founder and president Jeff Morse said the support has been amazing.
"It has been unbelievable the support that our brother firefighters have given us," Morse said in a telephone interview from the road. "It is a true brotherhood."
Sponsor Clint Kronenberger, owner of Clint's Bicycle Shoppe of Naples, has been following the group in a vehicle to ensure their safety, fix any mechanical problems and provide the bikers with proper nutrition.
"It's been a humbling experience every time we get into a new town," he said. "Today, we had three different county fire engines ride with us with kids on the side of the road cheering like at a parade."
Kronenberger got involved months ago after hearing about the ride from various clients, many of whom are firefighters and police officers. Since then, he has been training the firemen to get up to 70 to 80 miles a day on the bikes, raising stamina and building endurance.
The Brotherhood Ride is scheduled to end at the Elks Lodge on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard.
Reach Nathan Frandino at firstname.lastname@example.org.