Officials estimate damage at $8-10 million in Georgetown fire

GEORGETOWN, S.C. (WCIV) -- After hours of battling a fire along Georgetown's historic Front Street, firefighters have contained a fire that destroyed or damaged nearly a dozen businesses.

Damage is estimated to be in the millions, said Mayor Jack Scoville, adding it may take two years to completely rebuild the area. Gov. Nikki Haley has planned to walk through the historic area and survey the damage Thursday morning.

Director of Emergency Management for Georgetown County Sam Hodge said several buildings that date back to the mid-1800s were affected by the fire that started in the 700 block of Front Street around 5:23 a.m. Wednesday.

Officials said Goudelock Gallery and Shop, Witzel Art, Limpin Jane's Restaurant, the Boardwalk Market, Buzz's Roost, Doodle Bugs Children's Shop, Zest Restaurant, Harbor Walk Books and Colonial Florist were all significantly damaged in the fire.

There were also seven apartments seriously damaged.

The city's new Maritime Center was also damaged in the fire, but sprinklers help prevent the fire from spreading through the building.

Georgetown County Emergency Management requested Red Cross' assistance in providing breakfast and lunch to 100 first responders.

"The building where the fire started was fully engaged and flames{} were shooting up 30 feet in the air at some point and they were{} working as fast as they could to get water on it and contain it and it{} spread from there in both directions," said Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville.

Scoville said he thinks the fire started in the back area of Limpin Jane's restaurant, but he did not know how it started.

At a press conference, officials said over 100 firefighters responded to the fire. There have been no injuries so far, but several firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion.

Officials said Wednesday afternoon that they have not accounted for one cat and one dog in the fire.

The State Law Enforcement Division has a team headed to Georgetown to help investigators determine the cause of the fire.

Al Joseph said two of the buildings have completely collapsed from the damage, but he said this was only a temporary setback along the historic street.

"We're going to put this back together," he said.

Hodge says the block of buildings are on the boardwalk side of the street in the historic area of downtown Georgetown. Most buildings are fully involved in flames but the fire is somewhat under control to a point due to fire walls, according to Hodge.

Front Street between Orange and Queen Streets is blocked off at this time.

Scoville said the property owners are devastated by the destruction.

"I mean{} you've got total destruction with these businesses there are a lot of{} homes above them it's just{}horrible. It's a terrible event," he said. "The good side of it, as far as we know, there has been no loss of life."

Scoville said five or six of the business owners lived above their businesses.

Officials say five departments are responding to the fire as well as the U.S. Coast Guard as boats are said to be involved in the fire.

Hodge says no injuries have been reported at this time as a result of the fire.

"Life goes on, so hopefully we will come back bigger and better than ever," Scoville said.

About a half mile from the scene of the fire, a collection of boats are covered in ash and soot, but they are still floating.

{}"I got a call from a friend and he said the harbor walk was on fire. So, I got up and woke up my crew member. We went up there and discovered the fire. It was out of control at that time," said Ronnie Campbell.

Campbell said the boats were docked along the harbor walk, just behind the fire. Six of them were about to be destroyed.

"It was real hot. I could feel the heat in my boat right there from the end of the dock," Campbell said.

So Campbell jumped in to rescue the vessels.

"We just started cutting the lines and pulling away from the dock, just turning them a loose until we got all of them out," he said.

Saving the boats was much like saving home because Campbell was born and raised on the harbor, and now tows boats for a living.

"I used to be a commercial fisherman. When Hugo come through I started, there was a need for tow boats and that's what started me," Campbell said. "That's what I do. That's what I do."

Campbell said the boats belonged to some of the restaurant and business owners in the area. So far, only minimal damage to two boats has been reported.

Many are asking where and how they will go forward.

Restaurant owner Peter Scalise sees months of hard work gone, piled and smoldering on the floor.

"The sanding the floors, the painting every inch of that building, because we put every inch we touched. It kind of just disappeared, makes you feel empty," said Scalise.

Scalise says he opened Zest restaurant just{} two months ago, but on this day he and his neighbors aren't only thinking of the buildings. They are also thinking of the people."We have 35 employees we know of. So the biggest would be our employees and what we're doing and all these restaurants and bars employ 30 to 50 people now out of work," he said.

"It just doesn't seem fair to people who've worked so hard all their lives, live above their business. To have their home and their business wiped out from under them," said Susan Sanders.

But the people of Georgetown are determined. They say part of Front Street may have gone down, but the community will continue to stand.

"Communities get behind a crisis like this. They'll come back," said Scalise. "We're here to keep it downtown Georgetown. We're not going to leave. We're going to stay."

The Georgetown Fire Relief Fund has been set up for donations through First Citizens Bank on Front Street.