‘GEORGETOWN’S WORST NIGHTMARE BECAME A REALITY’; CLEANUP, SEARCH FOR CAUSE BEGINS
“Georgetown is going to be OK. Georgetown is open for business.”
That’s what South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday after she got a first hand look at the still-smoldering rubble caused by Wednesday’s massive fire in the 700 block of Front Street.
“This is devastating for Georgetown and tragic for South Carolina. It’s horrible to look at,” Haley said during a press conference following a meeting with local leaders and a tour of the burned-out city block.
Mayor Jack Scoville could not attend because he, a lawyer, was in Federal Court.
“There is nothing I won’t do or sign to get them what they need. The concern I have is what is available. We will see what we can do from a tourism and historic aspect,” Haley said.
As she spoke, there was still smoke billowing from the rubble of the eight buildings that were destroyed.
The fire is reported to have started in the rear deck of Limpin’ Jane’s restaurant, in the middle of the block.
The flames quickly spread to the stores on both sides, according to Georgetown City Fire Chief Joey Tanner.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) began investigating the cause of the fire Thursday. Georgetown Police Chief Paul Gardner said that does not mean arson is suspected.
He said those agencies have the expertise to investigate fires of such magnitude.
Ard loses business and home
Jeanette Ard, a member of Georgetown City Council, lost her business and home in the fire.
Since 1989, she has owned Colonial Floral Fascinations and has lived in the upstairs portion of the building.
“I loved living there. All of us up and down the street lost a lot,” Ard said. “I cannot say enough about the support from the community.”
Haley said even though Ard lost everything, she is still committed to the fact the area will rebuild.
When asked if she will reopen her business, Ard said it was too early for her to make that decision.
Sawyer reports the fire
The point of origin will be a focal point of the investigation. Georgetown City Councilman Paige Sawyer said he knows where the fire began because he saw it as he was walking his dog on the Harborwalk, something he does each morning.
He said he saw flames coming from the end of the outdoor bar on the back deck of Limpin’ Jane’s. He said the fire was in a trash bag which contained cans and the blaze spread quickly up the wall.
Another man, Mark Mau, said he was working overnight at the steel mill and saw the flames from across the river and also called 911.
Damage being accessed
As the investigation into the cause of the fire continues, the losses are being calculated.
Tanner said Thursday “it is much too early” to place a pricetag on what the fire has cost but Scoville said Wednesday he expects it to be in the millions.
The businesses impacted are Goudelock & Co., Limpin’ Jane’s, Doodlebugs, Zest restaurant, Buzz’s Roost, Boardwalk Markette, Harborwalk Books, Colonial Floral Fascinations, and the S.C. Maritime Museum.
County Emergency Manager Sam Hodge said 130 people who worked at the businesses lost their jobs.
“It’s important the community comes together to take care of them,” Hodge said.
Tanner: It was a “nightmare”
Tanner said the call to his department about the fire was received at 5:23 a.m. Wednesday and the first fire truck arrived on the scene four minutes later.
Tanner said when he arrived at about 5:30 a.m. he was on the phone with Scoville.
“I did not think we would save anything on the waterfront,” Tanner said of his initial reaction at the size of the blaze. “At 5:30 yesterday morning Georgetown’s worst nightmare became a reality.”
Tanner, at Thursday’s press conference, dispelled a rumor that it was 20 minutes after the first engine arrived on the scene that water was being sprayed on the fire.
“That is absolutely not true,” he said. A firefighter immediately ran a hose to the back of the buildings and started spraying the flames. Meanwhile, other firefighters were making sure everyone was out of the businesses and upstairs apartments.
“There were three victims trapped on a second floor,” Tanner said. Crews worked to get them down. “There were people running from the buildings.”
A woman who lives in one of the apartments says she was awakened by her cat.
Mary Beth Brawley said her cat was jumping on the bed, which was unusual, so she looked out of her window and saw the fire’s reflection in the river.
“The smoke was so strong we couldn't see to get down the steps,” Brawley said of making her escape with a neighbor. “We couldn't breathe.
While every person made it out unharmed, two pets — a dog and a cat — were killed in the fire.
As a full scale water attack began on the fire, an explosion from the upper floor of Limpin’ Jane’s caused the bricks from the front façade to shower onto the street slightly injuring three firefighters and one police officer.
Tanner said after being treated at the hospital, his workers returned to the fire scene.
Tanner immediately called for assistance from other agencies and help began to arrive from all across the area.
He said fire trucks were sent from Georgetown County, Andrews, Midway Fire, Murrells Inlet-Garden City, Surfside Beach, Myrtle Beach, Horry County and Conway.
Firefighters also responded from Charleston, Dorchester, Summerville, Florence, Johnsonville and Williamsburg County.
As they were working, Tow Boat U.S. was towing 10 boats that were docked behind the businesses. The heat had caused damage to some of those boats, owner Ronnie Campbell said.
Even though pockets of flames could be seen most of the day Wednesday, the fire was classified as contained by 10 a.m.
On Thursday, what was left of Limpin’ Jane’s was torn down by construction workers.
Police Chief Paul Gardner said this was done “for the safety of investigators.”
Haley: Georgetown will survive
Haley began her remarks by praising the “amazing ability the community had in coming together” in providing for not only the fire victims but also the firefighters and other emergency personnel.
“Georgetown has always been a bright spot. It’s going through a tough time right now,” she said.
The governor said Georgetown has “a rock star in Chief Tanner” as she spoke about his handling of the crisis.
She then used her platform to speak to the rest of the state.
“Our neighbors in Georgetown need us,” she said as she looked into the TV cameras.
Haley said the “Front Street Fire Relief Fund” has been established and donations can be made at any First Citizens Bank. Checks can be mailed to Front Street Fire Relief Fund c/o First Citizens Bank, 726 Front Street, Georgetown, S.C., 29440.
Georgetown Kraft Credit Union is also accepting donations at any of their branches.
“Georgetown is going to be OK. I want people to come see how beautiful Georgetown still is,” Haley said.
By Scott Harper
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