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Litchfield: SLED investigates fire that destroyed real estate office

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

A puff of smoke rises from the blackened rubble that was the James W. Smith Real Estate Company and Executive Center in Litchfield, one last gasp from a fire that destroyed the building and all its contents early Sunday morning.

Midway Fire and Rescue personnel were keeping an eye on the rubble to extinguish hot spots fed by an unusually stiff wind, according to spokesman Bob Beebe.

Officials have not determined the cause of the fire, reported at 2:45 a.m. Sunday. Midway Chief Doug Eggiman called on the State Law Enforcement Division to assist with the investigation, and agents were digging through a mountain of smouldering rubble by Sunday afternoon.

“SLED was called,” Beebe said, “due to the size of the fire and the fact it was a commercial building. SLED has more investigative resources to determine the cause.”

Midway Fire and Rescue responded to the alarm and called for help from Murrells Inlet-Garden City, Georgetown city and county, Horry County and Surfside Beach. The 45 firefighters on the scene could do little more than contain the fire to the real estate office as the roof collapsed and fresh air fed the blaze. Still, one firefighter suffered a minor injury, Beebe said.

By Wednesday afternoon, some of the yellow tape used to rope off the building’s remains was flapping in the breeze.

There were just a few recognizable items amid the burned wood: a fire extinguisher blackened by heat and smoke, an office chair on the ground with its wheels in the air, the building’s air conditioning units charred but intact. Almost everything else in the building was burned beyond recognition. Some yellow insulation was the only color at the scene, except black. Shrubbery and trees near the building were singed, and fire took the corner off the company’s big wooden sign out front.

A wooden fence 20 feet behind the building was undamaged, indicating that the heat went up and through the roof of the two-story building built in 1989. That was good news for nearby neighbors.

A South Carolina Gamecocks plaque rested on top of a pile of records that had been stacked outside a side door. Smith is known for his allegiance to the University of South Carolina and had a collection of memorabilia presented to him by visiting coaches and players. All of it, save one lone plaque, is likely gone.

Smith said he had received more than 500 phone calls since the fire and didn’t have time this week to talk further.

The fire didn’t keep company employees from greeting vacation rental guests Sunday in the burned building’s parking lot, according to one local source.

A person answering the company’s phone Wednesday said it would be temporarily relocating to Litchfield Market Village, next to the old Blockbuster Video rental store. The site was still empty Wednesday afternoon as agents were working from home and using their cell phones.

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