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Fire engulfs waterfront in South Carolina city

The city of Georgetown, S.C., suffered a major blow to part of its historic waterfront when a fire broke out Wednesday morning.

By 6 a.m., about a half hour after it began, the fire had engulfed seven historic buildings, including restaurants and bars, a favorite children’s store, a bookstore and a florist shop as well as residences, and damaged more. The buildings faced Front Street and backed onto the Harbor Walk, a boardwalk along the Sampit River.

The fire was mostly contained by the time it reached the Georgetown Maritime Museum. The museum undoubtedly had “smoke and water damage on the second floor,” said Sally Swineford, one of the founders of the Georgetown Harbor Historic Association, which funded the museum. “The firefighters and emergency workers helped move most of the ship models out of the building.”

Fire hoses were still trained on smoldering hot spots this morning. Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville said the buildings shared a common attic, which allowed the fire to spread quickly. Besides nine fire companies, the Coast Guard was called to help battle the fire from the water. Scoville said Georgetown’s fireboat is designed more to put out fires on boats than assist in a major building fire. He speculated that it will take two years to rebuild, as only the facades remain.

Harbor Walk boat slips were at risk during the fire and Sea Tow Georgetown and TowBoatUS released boats so they could be anchored or tied to others in the harbor or to slips where the vessels would be safe, said Edwin Jayroe, a Georgetown harbor pilot and a partner in Sea Tow. He said the boats were being hit by sparks and cinders, adding to a dangerous situation.

The boardwalk did not burn, probably because it had been rebuilt several years ago with ipé wood that Jayroe said “has to get really hot before it starts to burn.”

The area has been fenced off, pending an investigation by a structural engineer and state officials. Gov. Nikki Haley was to visit Georgetown this morning.

The loss to the third-oldest city in South Carolina and one of the oldest seaports in the country is significant, but organizers of the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show promise that it will take place as planned on Oct. 18-19.

— Suzi DuRant

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