Fire destroys seven historic buildings on Front St. in Georgetown

Fire destroys eight historic buildings on Front St. in Georgetown
Published: Sep. 25, 2013 at 10:22 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 26, 2013 at 12:36 PM EDT
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Wednesday afternoon.
Wednesday afternoon.
The block burns. (Source: Midway Fire and Rescue)
The block burns. (Source: Midway Fire and Rescue)

GEORGETOWN, SC (WCSC) - Firefighters have contained a blaze which engulfed a number of buildings along historic Front Street in Georgetown on Wednesday morning.

Officials say the fire happened around 5:30 a.m. and spread to several buildings in the 700 block of the street which sits on the Georgetown waterfront, near the Harborwalk.

Nancy Kreidler watched indisbelief as the flames ripped through businesses across the street from herrestaurant.

"It looks like somethingfrom a movie set. It doesn't seem like reality at the moment."

She and her husbandimmediately opened up their doors to those displaced so they could rest alittle, charge their phones, and eat.

"You have to help your friendsand neighbors. This is South Carolina. That's what we do. So, it didn't seemlike a stretch to take care of the folks who need everything right now. They'velost everything."

Georgetown Fire Chief Joey Tanner said the fire appears to have started in one building and then spread to neighboring buildings through the attics.  Many residents in the area reported hearing a loud boom when the fire started.

South Carolina ATF agents have been called in to investigate, and Tanner said it could be days before they are sure of the cause.

Officials initally said eight buildings were destroyed, but later clarified one of those buildings, the Georgetown Maritime Museum, only suffered minor smoke damage.  The buildings housed restaurants, a book store, and a florist store, among others.  10 businesses in all were affected.

The city's iconic clock tower was spared.

The buildings affected date back to the 1800s.  Officials said they were "making great progress" and the focus shifted to the interior of buildings, as several have collapsed.

Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville called the blaze "a tremendous blow for the city."  Scoville said he was not sure of the implications the fire would have for the upcoming annual Wooden Boat Show at the Harborwalk.

Front Street and Orange Street to Queen Street has been closed.

Over 200 firefighters from ten different departments and the United States Coast Guard are involved in the effort.  Coast Guard was called in to cut boats from the marina near the fire.

The American Red Cross,which has an office a couple hundred feet away from Front Street, servedmeals all day to first responders and victims.

"I have Red Crossvolunteers who are going to be here all night and will continue to meet theirneeds and have our office available for them," said Nanci Conley, the executivedirector of the Coastal South Carolina chapter.

Sam Hodge, the city's emergency director, said all the available water in Georgetown was used to fight the fire so they shuttled water in from the Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex near the Sampit River Bridge to help with water supply.

No injuries were reported, but Tanner said some firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion.

Georgetown City Councilman Paige Sawyer says a bank account has been opened which will help those affected. According to Sawyer, the fire will not stop upcoming any upcoming events like the Bridge 2 Bridge race in two weeks and the wooden boat show in three weeks.

"Georgetown may be hurt by this, but we're going to come back bigger and stronger," Sawyer said.

"Our Red Cross volunteers and staff are here and are providing assistance to the first responders and those families affected by the fire," Nanci Conley, executive director, American Red Cross, Coastal SC Chapter, said of the 16 Red Cross workers at the fire scene. "We'll be here as long as needed."

Since arriving at the scene, Red Cross has provided meals and hydration for the 250 first responders. Red Cross volunteers are also assisting nine families displaced by today's fire offering financial assistance for lodging, food and clothing along with comfort kits. Trained Red Cross mental health workers are providing disaster mental health services to those affected by the fire.

Copyright 2013 WCSC.  All rights reserved.  WMBF contributed to this report