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Georgetown fire: Haley looks for private funds to rebuild

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley called on the state’s private citizens today to make donations to help Georgetown recover from a devastating fire that struck the heart of its commercial historic district Wednesday.

Haley said she had a “heavy heart” after touring the scene of the fire that gutted seven buildings in the 700 block of Front Street. Eight businesses were destroyed; 10 people were left homeless; and 130 employees where put out of work.

“This is the time,” Haley said during a press conference on Front Street, “where I’m going to ask South Carolina to step up like they’ve never stepped up before. Our neighbors in Georgetown need us. Our neighbors in Georgetown have gone through a crisis, and their neighbors across the state need to come through.”

Haley said the Front Street Fire Relief Fund has been set up at the state’s First Citizens Bank offices. Donations may also be made by calling 843-546-8591.

Because the fire was not a natural disaster, Haley said there are limits on the types of government relief available. “We are digging deep,” she said. “There’s nothing I won’t sign, nothing I won’t support in helping them get what they need.”

There may be tourism or historic preservation funds available, but Haley said she expects more relief to come from private citizens. “That’s why I’m asking in a very strong way,” she said, “for the people of South Carolina to step up.”

Haley praised the community for how quickly it started recovery efforts. “This is horrible to look at,” she said, “but what absolutely warms my heart is the amazing ability the community has in coming together. It’s extraordinary.”

She called Georgetown Fire Chief Joey Tanner “a rock star” for the way he coordinated more than 125 firefighters from 10 departments that came to Georgetown’s aid. Three firefighters and a police officer were injured in an explosion. Through it all, Haley said, neighbors came together to provide food and water for the firefighters. “That,” she said, “is South Carolina every day of the week.”

Sel Hemingway, Georgetown County administrator, said city, county, state and federal representatives met Wednesday with the governor to assess the situation and make plans to “put this thing back together as quickly as possible.”

Georgetown Police Chief Paul Gardner said the investigation into the cause of the fire would begin today with the assistance of State Law Enforcement Division and federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arson investigators.

“You will start to see activity on Front Street,” Gardner said. “If we start to take things out, it is part of the investigation not the demolition. If anything comes down, it will be for the safety of the investigators. It is important to determine the cause of the fire.”

The Georgetown County Emergency Services director, Sam Hodge, said work to stabilize the remaining facades of the burned buildings would begin as soon as possible. “It’s important for Georgetown to save the face of Front Street,” he said. “Engineers will design support structures to maintain the facades.”

Haley encouraged people across the state to visit Georgetown and support its businesses.

“What I want the takeaway from this to be is that Georgetown is going to be OK,” Haley said. “Georgetown is open for business. I want people to visit Georgetown to see how beautiful it is, see and treasure the history. These are strong people. We’re going to step up for Georgetown like they’ve never seen. It starts today. We’ll make sure we don’t forget there are businesses that have survived, make sure the other businesses are up and running again. Georgetown has gone through a tragedy, but we will rise through the ashes and smile once again.”

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