Trending Topics

Cause of fire that killed S.C. firefighter determined

Irmo firefighter James Michael Muller was killed and six others injured during a collapse while fighting an apartment fire


Irmo firefighter James Michael Muller was killed in a collapse while fighting an apartment fire.

Columbia Fire Department/Facebook

By Noah Feit
The State

COLUMBIA, S.C. — An investigation has determined the cause of the fire that led to the death of Irmo firefighter James Michael Muller.

The “devastating 3-Alarm fire” that happened May 26 at Tropical Ridge Apartments was caused by unattended cooking materials and was ruled an accident, the Columbia Fire Department said Tuesday night.

The Irmo Fire District was assisting Columbia firefighters at the apartment complex on Stoneridge Drive in the St. Andrews area.

In addition to the death of the 25-year-old Muller, six other firefighters had to be hospitalized after a structure collapsed as they battled the blaze, which an investigation showed had started around a stove in the kitchen area of one of the apartments. The five injured members of the Columbia Fire Department and a second Irmo Fire District firefighter were all released from area hospitals by May 27, officials said.

Two residents of the apartment building were rescued and 19 were displaced, according to the Columbia Fire Department.

The Columbia Fire Department said an investigation began immediately after the fire, and several other agencies assisted in the investigation. They include the Columbia Police Department, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, South Carolina State Fire and its partner the State Fire Marshal’s Office, as well as South Carolina Task Force 1 and the ATF National Response Team.

“Given the tremendous impact of the fire, the injuries that several firefighters suffered and the loss of Irmo Firefighter James Muller’s life — our department wanted to have the most resources available to us as we conducted the investigation,” the Columbia Fire Department said. “This included resources that were used to sustain the structural integrity of the building where the fire took place so the investigation could be performed thoroughly and safely. Through our federal partners, several cranes and other tools were brought onto the site to accomplish this objective.”

While the cause and origin of the fire were determined, the Columbia Fire Department said it will continue to provide resources, information and support to other agencies (including OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) that will investigate circumstances surrounding the fatal fire and Muller’s death. Investigations like this are common following the death of a firefighter in the line of duty, according to the Columbia Fire Department.

“While it has been determined that this fire was accidental in nature, the impact it caused is no less deep and tragic,” Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said in a news release. “Our hearts continue to be with Firefighter Muller’s family and friends, our partners at Irmo Fire District and all who continue to mourn during this difficult time.”

A seven-year veteran firefighter, Muller was “a highly respected firefighter that had a love and passion for the job,” the Irmo Fire District said in a statement after his death.

Funeral services were held on May 31 for Muller, who is survived by his wife and young son along with his parents and a sister.

©2023 The State.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

PREVIOUSLY: Watch – S.C. community says goodbye to fallen firefighter