Suspicious fire destroys Hardeeville strip mall

(Source: Capt. Randy Hunter, Bluffton Twp. Fire District)
(Source: Capt. Randy Hunter, Bluffton Twp. Fire District)

HARDEEVILLE, SC (WTOC) - Flames and smoke could be seen for miles against the morning sky. The heat was so intense, it took firefighters from four different departments to put out the blaze.

While the strip mall burned, D. P. was asleep in his MiniMart grocery and liquor store. "It was the sheriff that knocked on the door, that made me realize I had to get the hell out of my store!" said  D. P. "I saw smoke, and after that, everything just took off."

D. P. escaped with the clothes on his back, and his beloved bird, Lucy. "My teeth are still in there," he said.

D. P. also had about $15,000 worth of liquor that he planned to sell over the holidays. "I can't believe it. I just can't believe it," he said.

When asked what he was running through his mind when he saw flames getting closer to the store? "That Hardeeville lost a good store. And a good man lost his business," said one of D.P.'s customers.

That wasn't the only building lost. A Hispanic Seventh Day Adventist Church also burned to the ground. Congregation members were set to open their doors for the first time this weekend. Many congregation members stopped by all morning to see the devastation.

"I was in shock. I couldn't believe it was all gone," said Jessica Guerrero, a congregation member.

"I feel bad," said Jose Guerrero. "God knows why this happened. And the good thing is, nobody was here. Nobody was hurt."

Jasper County fire investigators and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Arson Investigators combed through the rubble for most of the day. They seemed to focus on an area where the Mini Bar used to stand.

Investigators have not said what started the fire, only that it looks like a suspicious blaze.

The strip mall owner already brought in an excavator to start tearing down some of the burnt out structure. But church members and store owners are confident they'll rebuild again. " We're going to build this place back up," said D. P. " It'll work out fine."

"God is going to give us another place," Guerrero said. "Probably here or somewhere else. But we put this in his hands, and he's going to rebuild."

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