Fire damages 4 businesses in Charleston's historic district

Fire investigation on East Bay St. (WCIV)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A property management company told business and residential tenants at a building near the site of Tuesday morning's fire that they hope to have them back in their spaces by Wednesday morning.

A statement sent to tenants by The East Bay Company states that an industrial cleaning crew is working through the night to get smoke particulate out of the air and off surfaces so that residents can return to their homes and businesses.

Please understand they are working the night through, but may not be completely through by 9 a.m.," the release stated.

With the fire in Charleston's historic district under control, fire officials briefly let residents who live next door to 213 East Bay Street back into their homes to collect their belongings on Tuesday afternoon.

The decision to let the residents in briefly comes after firefighters from several area districts spent most of the morning battling a blaze that was visible from James Island and Patriots Point.

Flames and heavy smoke filled the air along East Bay Street near the U.S. Custom House in Charleston early Tuesday morning during an apartment fire.

Several fire departments responded to the area near the Charleston Market early Tuesday morning. A viewer who lives near the scene of the fire called it "one of the biggest downtown (Charleston) fires I've seen in a long time."

GALLERY: Photos from the scene

Fire officials said the call came in around 1 a.m. for the fire at 213 East Bay St. Officials said four buildings were damaged by the fire, including popular hangouts Light, the Speak Easy, The Brick and Squeeze. There was some heat damage to adjacent buildings, but no real fire damage.

Around 3 a.m. the streets were filled with displaced residents and employees of the businesses who then gathered on the steps of the Customs House, hugging and comforting each other.

David Schwartz, a bartender at Tommy Condon's was running errands on his bike when he saw fire engines and ambulances coming in from all directions."Before you know it, they're busting out windows, climbing in, spraying down the inside," he said. "And then the fire blew out the top of it (the building)."The fire was so big, it could be seen from the Ravenel Bridge. Once Schwartz realized how big the fire was, he set up camp on the top of the Cumberland Street garage to watch fire crews fight the flames."You can see it from everywhere," he said. "And the wind out of the north is just not letting up at all. I mean, these guys are just having a hell of a time just fighting this thing."

Firefighters had made it to the second floor before having to pull out of the building because of a partial roof collapse, Charleston Fire Department officials said. Crews have not re-entered the building as of 6:15 a.m. and believe the building may be structurally unsound, officials said.

Fire crews waited for daylight before trying to go back into the building.

There have been no reported injuries."We are thankful to report that our entire staff is safe," a statement read on The Brick's Facebook page. "However, we ask that you send your thoughts and prayers out to all residents, first responders, and businesses being affected by the fire that continues to burn on East Bay Street."Other clubs were updating their customers on social media as well."Prayers needed," the Squeeze Facebook post read. "Staff and customers are safe -- but we are sad to say that the building that houses Squeeze, Brick, Light and Speakeasy is fighting a major battle with fire."Michael Difazio was coming off work with Charleston Bike Taxi when he saw fire crews responding."We were seeing the flames coming off the roof," he said. "These spiral-vortex-tornado-like flames." "All you can do is thank the fire department, the crews here, the men who risk their lives to protect buildings and businesses," said Difazio. "A couple friends of mine run some of those bars, own some of those bars that are on fire so you can holy hope that they're going to help those businesses save as much as possible."Difazio said this couldn't have come at a worse time - as the busy tourist season is just getting underway."All these businesses are relying on the income of tourists especially with being voted number one by Conde Nast so we're excited for this season but this, unfortunately for some people, will put a damper on it."On The Brick's Facebook page, they scheduled to have a Bridge Run Brunch and Music Fest April 6 where they planned to launch a new brunch menu and hold a bridge run after-party.Officials appeared to be searching for the source of the smoke. An ABCNews4 crew also observed flames in the building along the 200 block of East Bay Street.No official information from Charleston Fire Department has been released yet answering questions about what caused the fire or how many residents have been displaced.East Bay Street, between S. Market and Cumberland streets, is closed at this time due to the apparatus and hose lines in the roadway. The fire chief says the structural stability of the building will have to be determined before they let people through the area.The street will likely remain closed for several hours and motorists should avoid the area during their morning commute, Chief Mike Julazadeh said in an email.Both lanes of East Bay were opened to traffic around 4:20 p.m.. Chief Julazadeh said CFD units will remain on scene for an undetermined period of time to monitor for "hot spots" in the debris. He also said the investigation has been suspended because of safety and structural concerns with the building. Investigators will work with the insurance company to see if the investigation can continue after parts of the building are stabilized. Julazadeh also says the sidewalk and parking area in front of the building will remain closed to maintain a safe area.City officials said that despite the heavy damage, the building will not have to be demolished.Stay with ABCNews4 for continuing updates on this developing story.