City demolishes Front Street buildings destroyed by fire
What last week's fire in the 700 block of Front Street did not take down, construction workers and a piece of heavy equipment did.
Facades that have stood for more than a century were brought down in less than three hours Thursday.
Jeanette Ard, who has owned Colonial Floral Fascinations in the 700 block on Front Street since 1989 could not hold back her emotions as she watched her building come down.
It was one of the buildings that was destroyed by fire Sept. 25. Although the shell of the building still stood, it was one of three that were deemed unsafe and demolished Thursday.
At around 2 p.m. a crew from Coastal Structures began tearing down most of the damaged buildings from the fire because they have been declared unsafe by fire officials.
First the remnants of Harborwalk Books was torn down, then Ard's store was leveled. The facade and sides of what was Buzz's Roost was also demolished.
The building that houses Goudelock & Co., also extremely damaged by the fire, was not taken down. Fire Chief Joey Tanner said he is unsure what will happen to that building.
Business and home gone
Like many business owners on Front Street, Ard lived in the upstairs portion of her building.
She was allowed in her apartment one last time before the demolition got underway.
Ard began to cry as she sat in front of the Rice Paddy restaurant, across from her fire-gutted building.
She said watching the demolition was hard because it was “another phase of this nightmare I am going through.”
“I pray for the strength to be able to get through this. We need to rebuild. Not just my building but the entire block,” Ard said. “It is like a nightmare that I cannot wake up from. But the Lord will take care of me.”
Ard's granddaughter, Courtney Cagle, opened Boardwalk Boutique in the back of Ard's store about a month ago.
It was a place at which Cagle spent a lot of time as she grew up.
“She was a baby in that shop,” Ard recalled. When she was five-years-old she was making flower arrangements and had to climb on a stool to reach the cash register.”
Before her building was torn down, firefighters salvaged a cabinet from Ard's apartment she said belonged to her grandmother. Inside the cabinet was a Bible that appeared to be undamaged by the fire.
Joyce Goins, who has worked for Ard for eight years, said she was “devastated” by what she saw when she went upstairs for the first time since the fire Thursday.
“That was our life in there,” Goins said.
Ard is relocating her business to the 900 block of Front Street but will return to the 700 block once her building is rebuilt. Cagle will also relocate to the temporary location.
Doodlebugs Children's Finery & Gifts announced Thursday they too will be relocating to the 900 block of Front Street.
Demolition required crossing hurdles
City Administrator Chris Carter said the effort to get the unsafe structures torn down began earlier this week.
“Monday morning we furnished three statements from city employees — the building official, the fire chief and the city's economic development director — to Shane Ray, the State Fire Marshall.
Under the authority of South Carolina Code 23-9-160 the State Fire Marshall can act under an emergency to order the removal of a dangerous building in a municipality by ordering the municipality to take down a building,” Carter stated in a written statement to the Georgetown Times. “We felt there was sufficient evidence the facades needed to be removed.”
Carter said Ray did not approve the demolition but instead said the city should act under a section of the International Fire Code which is enforced by the City.
“I personally felt the state law specifying the state fire marshal as the decision-maker superseded an interpretation of local officials furnished after a routine fire inspection. I do believe the state fire marshal demurred based on his own statements,” Carter said. He said Ray told him the Office of Legal Counsel did not want the state fire marshal getting involved in local matters.
Carter said the city received permission from the owners of the buildings to demolish them and the city decided to proceed once they received that permission.
Jonathan Heald, the city's public services director, said three bids were received for the demolition. Coastal Structures was awarded the contract for $5,500.
Heald said any of the debris that lands on the sidewalk or on Front Street will be pushed back onto the property lines of the owners of the buildings.
He said the city is paying for the work but the cost may possibly be passed on to the property owners at a later time.
The investigation continues
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the U.S. ATF continue to investigate the cause of the fire.
Authorities say trained dogs were used as part of the investigation and found no evidence of an accelerant .
It is still believed the fire started in a trash can on the back deck of Limpin' Janes restaurant, which was leveled as part of the investigation last week.
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