Fire sprinkler breaks, ruins books at Hilton Head library

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 17, 2013 

Update, 9:30 a.m. Wednesday: The Hilton Head Island library will be open for its regular hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday. Library and county staff closed the library for the day Tuesday so cleaning crews could dry out as much of the lobby's carpet as possible, county spokeswoman Joy Nelson said.

Earlier story: A fire sprinkler in the Hilton Head Island library malfunctioned early Tuesday morning, ruining thousands of books and flooding several parts of the building.

The sprinkler was in the Friends of the Library bookshop, which had more than 3,500 books. The Friends sell donated books to raise money for the Hilton Head branch. The entire bookshop flooded, along with parts of the community room, main entrance and entrance to the children's library, branch manager Mary Jo Berkes said.

"It was like a wading pool," she said.

Library and county staff closed the library for the day so cleaning crews could dry out as much of the lobby's carpet as possible, county spokeswoman Joy Nelson said. Staff will visit the library again this morning and decide then whether to open the branch for its regular hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

It's not yet clear how much the cleanup will cost, Berkes said. No computers appear to have been harmed, she added.

The branch's sprinkler systems are inspected annually and were checked earlier this year, Berkes said.

The system notified a monitoring company, which then notified the fire department at 6:29 a.m., said Joheida Fister, spokeswoman for the Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division. It's unknown how long the sprinklers ran, Fister said.

Firefighters arrived at 6:33 a.m. to find the bookshop filled with several feet of water, Berkes said. The bookshop's door was watertight.

"The firemen said it looked like an aquarium," she said.

When firefighters opened the door to the shop, water poured into the library's entrance. From there they removed much of the water by pushing it to the front sidewalk with large brooms, Berkes said.

Servpro of Beaufort County responded at 7:45 a.m. for cleanup, company owner Justin Neumann said.

By 11 a.m., most of the standing water had been removed, and crews were working to dry the carpet.

Servpro's 30 fans and five dehumidifiers will remain at the library over the next few days until the carpet is dry, Neumann said.

"We'll be able to clean and restore the carpet; it'll dry in probably three, four days," Neumann said.

On Tuesday morning, Friends of the Library volunteers made a list of the ruined items, said Lynne Miller, the nonprofit group's president.

In addition to the books on shelves, books on eight rolling carts kept in the shop overnight were also ruined, Miller said.

The books "are so swollen, we can't even get them off the shelves," she said Tuesday morning. "It's a total loss."

People should not donate books to the Friends of the Library until the group can fix its bookshop or find a place to put new donations, Miller said.

Despite the malfunction of the library's sprinkler system, every building should have working fire sprinklers, Fister said. Broken fire sprinklers cause damage, but not as much damage had there been an actual fire and no sprinklers, she said.

Video by Delayna Earley

Video by Zach Murdock

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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