GEORGETOWN A fire destroyed eight buildings along Georgetowns historic Front Street early Wednesday, displacing businesses and residents in the heart of the citys waterfront business district.
The first call came in to 911 at 5:23 a.m. saying there was a fire in the 700 block of Front Street. The first crews arrived at 5:27 a.m. and saw heavy fire on the back side of the buildings next to the Harborwalk, Georgetown Fire Chief Joey Tanner said. Two people were trapped inside and multiple people were coming out of the apartments above the businesses.
Everyone got out safely, and no residents were injured. The cause of the fire is not yet known. Two explosions occurred. It could be days before a cause is determined, Tanner said.
We will go building by building, inch by inch because we need to make sure we find the cause of this fire, he said.
We have no idea what caused the fire at this time. The fire went from building to building. It came from the Harborwalk side, went up into the attic and from building to building.
None of the old buildings had sprinkler systems, Tanner said.
More than a half dozen buildings are a total loss, Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville said. More than 100 firefighters have battled the blaze, and support agencies including the Red Cross and Salvation Army are on scene to help.
Businesses that suffered a total loss include Colonial Florist, Harborwalk Books, Zest, Goudelock & Co., Doodlebug, Boardwalk Market, Buzzs Roost and Limpin Janes Restaurant, officials said.
Fire crews had issues with the water pressure, causing tankers to have to shuttle water from the Carroll Campbell Marina Complex, said Sam Hodge, Georgetown Countys emergency director.
Some residents in the Georgetown area have said their water is discolored, which Georgetown County spokeswoman Jackie Broach said is likely as a result of the firefighting and not a water quality issue and should be resolved by Wednesday afternoon. She said the water is safe to drink but residents shouldnt wash clothes until the water is no longer discolored.
Hodge said the water tank is depleted and water is still being brought in from the Campbell complex.
Two upcoming events will go on as planned: the Bridge 2 Bridge Run and the Wooden Boat Show.
No schools are closed because of the fire, though students at Maryville Elementary School on Poplar Street and Howard Adult Center on South Kaminiski Street are being kept inside because of the smoke that was in the air, said Ray White, public information officer for the Georgetown County School District.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said there are no issues with air quality, but the agency is on scene to monitor the water run off.
The fire didnt reach the Maritime Museum, though the complex was damaged by the smoke, officials said.
Kathy McWilliams, who lives in an apartment above Buzzs Roost, said she saw the fire early Wednesday on the Harborwalk and tried to help put it out.
I saw it burning from my window, she said. We started taking as much water as we could until the cops told us to leave.
Those umbrellas caught on fire and that was it. There was nothing else we could do. We tried everything we could. We tried everything. Its a nightmare.
Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville said the fire appeared to have started in the back of Limpin Janes Restaurant, although that has not been officially established.
Scoville said that six or seven businesses are total losses.
Business owners and residents are gathered still trying to process what has happened.
Susan Beckman, who lives at 122 Broad St. near the fire, was woken up about 5:30 a.m. by her daughter, Emily, 9.
There were lights bouncing in my room because I had the shade open, Emily said. I looked out my window and I saw smoke coming from that building and I was like, Mom and Dad, wake up, wake up!
Susan Beckman said she called Piggly Wiggly seeking food and drinks to offer fire crews, residents and business owners. More than 20 folks were gathered in her yard Wednesday morning.
I love this town so much and I love Front Street, she said. It was the least I could do.
About 100 fire and support crews from nearly a dozen agencies have helped battle the fire or offer support, Hodge said.
The U.S. Coast Guard pumped water from the harbor onto the businesses.
Limpin Janes Old South Eatery owner Bryan Shepler, who lives above his business, said when his business alarm went off at 5 a.m. he first assumed it was a break-in, but when he stepped on the floor, he knew it was something else.
Flames were shooting over the Harborwalk and the floor was so hot, he said. I grabbed my guitar, that was all I could think about.
Shepler ran outside the business hes run for about three years. It kept spreading down the block, he said. Where do I even start now? I havent thought about it.
The flames ran through Buzzs Roost, Doodlebugs, the flower shop and bookstore and ended at the Maritime Museum, Shepler said. Six other families that live above their businesses also lost everything.
We had just finished decorating everything, McWilliams said. We lost everything, and I just moved here two months ago.
At 8 a.m., flames and billowing smoke filled the sky as dozens of residents gathered in back parking lots off Front Street, many of them crying.
The Coastal S.C. Chapter of the American Red Cross has its Georgetown office open, which is downtown on Screven Street, said Executive Director Nanci Conley. The group is providing breakfast, lunch and snacks for those affected by the fire and for those working at the scene, and mental health counselors and client counselors also are available.
We will stay on the scene until all the needs are met, said Conley, adding that those wishing to help can make financial donations to the Red Cross. Financial donations allow us to move things quickly and to meet the needs of each individual.
George Fogel, who owns a sailboat that was docked at the harborwalk, said his vessel was one of seven boats docked there that Ronny Campbell with Towboat USA came and towed.
Fogel had not seen his boat since the fire, but he said he was told the front sail had some damage and that was about it.
He also praised Campbell.
"He was one of the heroes down here today," Fogel said. "When I got down there, I couldn't see anything, and to hear my boat is OK means I am a lucky guy."
Reporters Steve Jones, Vicki Grooms and Zane Wilson contributed to this report.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less