A Georgia firefighter is cycling 2,500 miles from California to Charleston to raise money for the families of the nine firefighters killed in the June 18 Sofa Super Store blaze in West Ashley.
Laddie Williams, a 35-year-old Augusta firefighter, was in the Mojave Desert on Wednesday after beginning his ride a day earlier in Palm Springs. He and fellow cyclist Scott Rousseau plan to arrive in Charleston in mid-October.
Williams, a third-generation firefighter, said he was struck by the scope of Charleston's loss and wanted to do something to help draw attention to the hazards faced by emergency workers. The blaze marked the largest single loss of firefighters since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Williams will stay in fire stations along his route and work to raise money for the International Association of Fire Fighters June 18 Fund to benefit families of the fallen firefighters. He is using a Web site to chronicle his trip and seek donations.
The IAFF is helping with logistics, such as arranging accommodations, and his fellow firefighters in Augusta have agreed to work extra days to cover his lost work time during the ride.
After a warm send-off in Palm Springs, a convoy of San Bernardino firefighters escorted Williams and Rousseau into the desert. Late Wednesday a fire boat was expected to give them a ride across Lake Havasu in Arizona. More firefighters are expected to join them for various legs of the ride, and to host fundraisers.
"The fire service is like a big family," Williams said. "Everyone is going all out to show these guys (in Charleston) that they support them."
Robert O'Donald, assistant to Charleston Fire Chief Rusty Thomas, said the department appreciates the efforts of Williams and others who are trying to help the families. "We're very thankful for the sacrifice he is making."
Williams said he feels a particular bond with Charleston. He has visited the city several times, his father grew up here and his sister lived in Mount Pleasant while teaching at the College of Charleston and The Citadel.
Williams, an avid bicyclist, hopes to average 100 miles a day on his trek. The final leg will be from Columbia to Charleston. He has invited Gov. Mark Sanford to join him, but it is unclear if the governor's schedule will allow him to participate.