FOLLY BEACH, SC (WCSC) - Officials with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said on Wednesday they found no criminal activity from a deadly Folly Beach fire that took the life of a 43-year-old man.
Authorities say the cause of the March 22 fire at an apartment remains undetermined.
The fire took the life of Tom Thiel who died of smoke inhalation while his apartment on Center Street went up in flames, according to the Charleston County Coroner.
Officials say the fire started shortly before 4 a.m. at Thiel's second floor apartment. Folly Beach police say someone walking by noticed the fire and called police. Firefighters had the flames under control within 5 minutes.
Once the flames were out, Thiel's body was found.
The small Folly community is now mourning the loss of the man who meant so much to so many by the beach.
"It's just disbelief," says a good friend of Thiel's named Arnold. "I just don't want to think of Tom being in that place when it was burning. It's really hard just to look at this building."
According to Arnold, Thiel let him stay in the apartment a handful of times when he was down on his luck. He says Thiel made him laugh and helped him when he needed it the most.
"You never know what you have until you lose something," says Arnold, who decided to move back to Folly recently. "A lot of people are going to realize they lost a good friend today."
Even those who didn't know Tom feel the pain.
"It hurts everybody here," said Charlie McCarty, who has lived on Folly Beach for 17 years. "Seeing the damage done on the rear of the apartment, that was scary."
Now it up to investigators to find out how the fire started and it's up to the small community help one another out, just like Tom did.
"He's going to be a hard guy to get over," said Arnold. "Other people you can talk about with a smile on your face but this is going to bring a tear to my eye every time I talk about him."
Tom has friends all over Folly Beach. His friends say there really wasn't a place that didn't consider him a regular.
Hurley, the dog Tom shared with his cousin, was rescued from the apartment fire. Rescue crews say the dog tried running back toward the house multiple times after it was pulled from the building.