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Apartment fire in Columbia claims life of SC firefighter

The firefighter was from the Irmo Fire District, according to the coroner.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — One of seven firefighters who were taken to the hospital after the collapse of a burning apartment in Columbia has died.

Richland County Coroner Naida Rutherford announced during a Friday evening briefing that a firefighter from Irmo Fire District who was providing aide during the response on Stoneridge drive, identified as 25-year-old James Muller, had died.

Columbia-Richland Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said that the fire happened at Tropical Ridge apartments and was raised from a two-alarm fire to three alarms when firefighters were trapped due to a collapse.

Jenkins said this led to a “Mayday” call due to the perilous situation involving their own firefighters. Jenkins said that, by the end of the response, five firefighters from Columbia and two from Irmo had to be taken to the hospital. The conditions of these other firefighters were not available at the time. Jenkins said they appeared to be doing “pretty good” and that they were all “hoping they would be OK.”

Two residents were also taken to the hospital and their conditions were not known at the time, Jenkins said.

In all, about 19 people were displaced from the damaged apartments. There were 12 in all and one was vacant, Jenkins said. The American Red Cross is working with residents regarding lodgings and other immediate needs.

The fire is being investigated by the Columbia Police Department, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, and other agencies in addition to the Richland County Fire Marshal’s Office. Jenkins said this is the standard protocol when a fire involves serious injury or death.

However, further investigation into the cause of the fire may have to wait until the partially-collapsed structure can be stabilized.

Meanwhile, tributes have been coming in from across the state for Muller from fellow fire agencies as well as state leaders. 

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