Haley: Georgetown will rise through the ashes

Photo of the scene Thursday (Stacy JacobsonWCIV)

GEORGETOWN, S.C. (WCIV/AP) - As Gov. Nikki Haley surveyed firsthand the damage of a fire that swept through Georgetown's business district, heavy machinery moved in to remove rubble left by the fire.

Officials said the backhoes and construction equipment were being used in the investigation, not demolishing what was left of the buildings that dated back to the 1800s. Emergency management officials said 10 buildings were lost, leaving 130 people without jobs.

The fire was finally contained and under control at 1:30 p.m., nearly eight hours after the fire started. The town's fire chief said the first crews responded to the fire in four minutes.

Haley visited the scene of the fire Thursday and told reporters that "Georgetown is open for business." She encouraged people to visit the stores and businesses that are still open and said the town will rise through the ashes.

The governor said it was mainly small mom and pop businesses that were hurt by the Wednesday morning fire that destroyed eight buildings in the city's shopping and dining district along the waterfront.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a tweet that his thoughts were of Georgetown, calling the fire "heartbreaking news."

Investigators, along with the assistance of the State Law Enforcement Division and the ATF, spent the day working to determine the cause of the fire.

Capt. Nelson Brown of the Georgetown Police Department said the ATF and SLED wrapped up their investigations Thursday evening. Brown said officers spent most of the day securing the scene and sifting through evidence.

Brown said the cause has yet to be determined, adding it could take days or weeks before the area is cleared enough to find what sparked the fire.

ON Wednesday, Georgetown councilman Paige Sawyer called 911 and reported seeing a plastic bag with debris on the back deck of Limpin' Jane's. Brown said the scene is being treated as a crime scene to preserve the area.

"The reason it's a crime scene is because we secured it and we've had teams in and searching the area for clues," he said. "Mr. Sawyer and the information he gave us, we're looking for a piece of the pie so we can get a full picture of what's going on."

On Wednesday, Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville said he estimated that damages would be in the millions of dollars.

There were no injuries although several pets died.

A recovery fund has been set up at the First Citizens Bank on Front Street. Bank officials said Thursday afternoon that employees have been handling a steady stream of calls since the governor announced the fund.

The branch manager said at least $2,000 had been raised.

On Saturday, the Wild Fish Grill will host a benefit to help raise funds for the families and businesses who lost everything in the fire. The restaurant is also located on Front Street but was spared from the flames.

The event starts at noon and will include free food and live music. Employees say all they ask is that customers come have fun and give from the heart.

"We just want to provide something for everybody in the community to get a chance to relax and take a load off just kind of reflect on the good things that are Front Street still and look forward to the things that it will be again," said Trevor Day, an employee of Wild Fish Grill.

Since the fire, three organizations have teamed up to make sure first responders on Front Street are fed and hydrated.

Volunteers with the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief say they have provided 450 meals in two days. The Red Cross also assisted 13 people with food, shelter and clothing.

"They have been very thankful, very appreciative. We appreciate how they appreciate us," said Connie Warren with the Red Cross.

"This community has come together tremendously.{} We've had churches as well as group, that you know, have just come together providing food, providing water," said Wil Bradham with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

There have been about 35 volunteers from the three organizations helping at the scene.

One Red Cross volunteer said they have no plans to return on Friday unless first responders call for them.

City crews will be cleaning up the area along Front Street, Brown said.

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